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What's My Height Again? Overhead Clearance Accidents Overview

Overhead clearance accidents: A preventable tragedy

In 2021, a trucker hit a bridge on the Southern State Parkway, killing the driver and causing the bridge to collapse. In 2022, in New York City alone, there were 10 overhead clearance accidents; they resulted in two fatalities, and several injuries. In 2020, a moving truck struck a bridge overpass on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, causing the truck to overturn and seriously injuring the driver. These are just a few examples of the many clearance incidents that happen every year, but why do they happen and what can be done to avoid overhead clearance accidents?

(credit: Newsday, Photo Paul Mazza)




How Low Can You Go?

According to the City of New York, some bridges on New York State's Parkway System have posted vertical clearances as low as 6'11"!



There are lots of signs about vehicle heights, so why do trucks hit overpasses? Some reasons could include:

  • Not Paying Attention - a passenger, a phonecall, weather and traffic conditions, all these things can affect a truckdriver's performance Truck driver not paying attention

  • Unfamiliar with the Route - too much focus on a map or gps can take a driver's eyes off the road for too long. It's a good idea to pull over (when it's safe to do so)Opens in a new windowfleetlogging.com Truck driver looking at map

  • Relying Solely on GPS Directions Truck driver relying on GPS directions

  • Misjudging Vehicle Heights Truck driver misjudging vehicle height



A Simple Step : Measure Your Vehicle Height!

To avoid misjudging your vehicle height, it is important to measure it properly. Here are the steps on how to measure your vehicle height:

  1. Park on a level surface.

  2. Locate the highest point on the vehicle.

  3. Measure the distance to the ground from this highest point.

Don't forget to measure your new height each time you are loaded, change trucks, get maintenance like tires or suspension done



(Credit CBS News 2; MTA)




Consequences for Overheight Driving

The consequences for overheight driving can be severe. These include:

  • Tickets, Fines, Fees - Getting caught for overheight driving comes with fines and fees ranging from $500 to $1,500 plus a $250 surcharge to the NYS Bridge Authority's Bridge Inspection Program.

  • Vehicle impoundment

  • Commercial Driver's License Suspension

  • Criminal Charges - reckless driving or endangerment

  • Damages - In addition, if you actually hit an overhead structure, you'll also likely be required to pay for any damages caused - depending on the severity of the incident, this could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

  • Injuries or Fatalities - Getting hurt or hurting someone else is almost the worst thing that could happen due to driving overheight; dying in an accident or killing others in an accident would be the absolute worst thing that could happen due to driving overheight.

How to Avoid Overhead Clearance Accidents

7 Ways to Avoid overhead clearance accidents, truck drivers can:


  1. Know your vehicle's height and consider your load displacement. Often available online for under $300 a durable, high-quality, lightweight and easy to use fiberglass measuring stick

can be a trucker's best friend. This means measuring the highest point on your vehicle, as well as taking into account how much your suspension will compress under the weight of your load. Be sure to remeasure your height whenever you change your load.



2. Plan your route carefully. Use maps and routing software that are specifically designed for commercial vehicles. These programs will help you identify low overhead clearances and avoid routes that are not suitable for trucks. We use the Truck Maps app and it's pretty user-friendly and seems accurate. I do not get compensation for that recommendation, I just like that their free version is useful!

3. Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to all traffic signs, especially those that indicate low overhead clearances. Be on the lookout for bridges, overpasses, and other structures that may have low clearance.

4. Use caution when approaching low overhead clearances. Slow down and be prepared to stop if necessary. If you are unsure whether or not your vehicle will fit under an overhead clearance, it is always best to err on the side of caution and stop to check.


5. Be aware of the potential for changes in clearance. Road conditions can change over time. For example, ice and snow can build up on bridges and overpasses, reducing clearance. Be sure to be aware of the potential for changes in clearance, especially during inclement weather.


6. Be mindful of your driving behavior. Avoid distractions such as using your phone or eating while driving. Be focused on the road and be prepared to take evasive action if necessary.


7. Get training on how to avoid overhead clearance accidents. Many trucking companies offer training programs on how to avoid overhead clearance accidents. These programs can help you learn about the dangers of overhead clearance accidents and how to avoid them.




Some tips provided by NYCDOT:

  • Always do your pre-trip safety inspection!

  • Plan your route!

  • Slow down; give pedestrians and cyclists space

  • Signal for safety

  • Remember: Backing Up at an intersection or crosswalk is illegal and dangerous

  • Avoid distractions

  • Do Not use cellphone mounts or items that can obstruct your already limited view

  • Get enough sleep! (My own Uncle died by falling asleep while driving a truck)

Check out the NYCDOT's "Stay Off State Parkways" pdf


And, check out the Truck Smart Guide pdf from NYCDOT here:


I hope these tips have been helpful! Let us know about an incident you've seen or been involved in!


Safety Always!

-Melissa


Melissa Purdy, Safety City LLC - G. Bard is my writing partner. * Photos from Google Maps (c) 2023 - October 21, 2023

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