Truck crashes blamed on GPS navigators, leading to call for action

Consumer Reports News: September 25, 2012 05:38 PM

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GPS navigators are to blame for the majority of bridge-strike accidents caused by trucks too tall to safely pass, according to information released by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY). The Senator is calling on the Department of Transportation to investigate and develop federal standards for GPS use in commercial trucks. In the meantime there is something truckers can do now to be safer.

More than 200 bridge accidents a year occur in New York, according to a recent New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) study. A separate report cited by the Senator's office claims that 80 percent of bridge strikes by trucks are caused by GPS misuse. Such accidents risk injury, traffic snarls, and expense to drivers, truck companies, and taxpayers.

For instance, repairs on the Long Island Expressway connected to such accidents have cost taxpayers $4.1 million. In addition, NYSDOT has spent $3 million for 300 new bridge warning signs and efforts to educate truck drivers in the past five years. The problem may be worst in older cities like New York, where many of the aging roads and highways were never intended to handle large trucks and where they are prohibited. But many GPS systems don't know that.

An investigation is warranted, as is consideration for rules and possibly penalties regarding GPS use in commercial trucks.

The reality is, the three major navigation companies each offer truck-specific models equipped with appropriate routing guidance and numerous other tailored features, such as guides to truck stop services and travel logs. All have large screens, appropriate for big trucks.

Garmin offers two models, the 7-inch dezl 760 LMT and 5-inch dezl 560LMT. Each dezl includes truck-specific routes, with appropriate warnings (sharp curves, high winds), road restrictions (such as hazardous materials), and truck speed limits. As the "LMT" designation suggests, they both include lifetime map upgrades and traffic information. Plus, these each have Bluetooth to facilitate hands-free calling.

Magellan currently has four models available for truckers: RoadMate Commercial 9270T-LM, RoadMate Commercial 9261T-LM, RoadMate Commercial 5190T-LM, and RoadMate Commercial 5190T. Full-featured devices, these build upon common functions seen in a car navigator with truck-specific routing, including the ability to set up a vehicle profile based on height, weight, width, length, and hazmat restrictions for custom routes. In addition, they can handle multi-destination routing, allowing drivers to plan a circuit, rather than just go from Point A to Point B. The Magellan units have audio/video inputs and can be used as a display for a back-up camera.

TomTom has a single entry with the Pro 7150 Truck, a 5-inch navigator than can integrate with the company's "Worksmart" fleet management tools. Like the others, it routes with consideration to weight and dimensions, along with speed limits.

All these units are pricey, typically selling for $300 or more. And that may be part of the problem: truck drivers and fleet owners may be buying inexpensive automotive navigators that lack these features. For business, it is always wise investment to buy the right tools.

While we haven't tested these truck-focused models, all three companies offer good car navigators and these devices seem like smart choices for commercial users. Of course, all drivers should be mindful of signs and be aware of major roads in your area that prohibit trucks. This also applies to RV owners and truck renters--all should remember to get the information necessary, by book or dashtop device, to ensure safe, legal routing.

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Jeff Bartlett

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