EDITORIAL: Fines are fine, but they won’t stop Glenville bridge strikes

A tractor trailer hit the Canadian Pacific overpass on Glenridge Road in Glenville in November 2016.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A tractor trailer hit the Canadian Pacific overpass on Glenridge Road in Glenville in November 2016.

Fines?

Yeah, sure. Why not? Couldn’t hurt.

But if the fear of being injured, destroying your truck, spilling your cargo, losing your job and facing other sanctions aren’t sufficient deterrents to crashing into a low railroad bridge, a small fine from the town probably isn’t going to do much.

But heck, add it to the pile of ideas.

The town of Glenville is looking into the legalities of imposing fines on truck drivers who regularly crash into the railroad bridge that passes over Glenridge Road.

The idea is to use the fine as a deterrent to future crashes, sure. But the fines also would be used to help the town recoup some of the costs of manpower, equipment and materials, and lost work time it incurs every time a truck driver overestimates his ability to squeeze his rig through the 10-foot-11-inch opening under Canadian Pacific Railway-owned bridge.

If town lawyers deem it legal, money from the fines might also be set aside to pay for the installation of some kind of electronic device that alerts drivers to the low bridge.

So far, signs and flashing lights clearly aren’t doing the trick, as the bridge is struck an average of about once a month.

This isn’t the first time the threat of fines has been used to deter truck collisions with low bridges in New York. The state averages about 220 bridge strikes per year, many of them downstate where old stone bridges predate highway traffic.

In fact, new fines and penalties for those driving commercial vehicles on state parkways went into effect in September. The penalties range from $250 to $2,000 plus jail time, depending on the number of past offenses and the size of the vehicle.

But fines aren’t usually much of a deterrent for these types of incidents.

Fines usually work best to deter people from doing something they’re doing deliberately, like running a stop light or speeding.

These bridge crashes aren’t being done by daredevils trying to get away with a challenging stunt; the drivers either are not paying attention to the road and advance signage, or they’re miscalculating their vehicle’s height and its ability to pass under the bridge.

The threat of a town fine won’t change that, unless it was something like $50,000. (Put that on a sign and watch them stop.)

But if the town can recoup a few bucks from the crashes, it should go for it. Get all you can from these guys for the damage they cause and the town resources they waste.

But actually stopping collisions will require nothing short of prohibiting certain trucks from the state road (unfeasible, uneconomical), lowering the road or raising the bridge (unlikely given the cost and logistics), better mapping of low bridges and more intervention by the trucking industry to equip drivers with alert devices (maybe some day) and installation of physical traffic impediments like rumble strips, diversion areas, over-street warning devices that alert drivers to the height of the bridge and more sophisticated electronic alert systems.

It’s a state road and a railroad-owned bridge. But collisions always seem to be the town’s problem.

If nothing else, the imposition of local fines will get the state’s attention, and show them that it’s well past time to do more to address these crashes than just study them.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

3 Comments

Fines are nice. Try immediately suspending the driver’s CDL too. That gets their attention. Perhaps if they risk losing their ability to make a living temporarily, they’ll pay attention to what they’re doing behind the wheel.

CRAIG OSTROM

Why was a bridge approved that doesn’t meet standards. Also, who gave approvals–Town, County, State, Federal, Rail Roads for such a disaster?

RICHARD A MACKINNON

Boston’s Storrow Drive has long been plagued by such bridge strikes. Some progress was made when overhead barriers were installed to immediately let a driver know he is going to strike if he continues. The railroads have done the same thing over a period of 100-plus years with overhead indicators to protect brakemen standing atop box cars.

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