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Could New Low Clearance Warning Systems Save Lives (And Maybe Money)?


We have a problem with low clearance bridges.

Since 1999, over 400 bridge strikes have been recorded at seven city street bridges over the I-65/I-70 ‘South Split’

Irving Park Road near Bensenville has closed for the next few months after over 15 trucks hit a low clearance bridge just days after the structure opened.

After these incidents and the  tragic bridge collapse accident in Saldano, the need for better warning systems to alert truck drivers of low clearance bridges has become too important to ignore.

Are New Solutions Needed?

Signage alone does not seem to be enough to warn drivers of low clearance situations. So is it time to try something new to protect truck drivers, motorists, and the nation’s infrastructure?

The Sydney Solution

One of the biggest reasons that some truck drivers hit bridges is that clearance warning signs are often small, poorly placed, and easy to miss. After flashing signs, neon signs and staggered signs did not stop trucks from entering low clearance tunnels, Australian authorities came up with a solution: holographic water curtain stop signs that are too big, too flashy, and frankly too cool to miss.


An expensive solution? Yes. Would it be feasible in every situation? Probably not. But could it save some lives? Maybe.

Hutchison Parkway’s Infrared Sensor System

Accidents like this are part of the reason that New York spent $1.5 million on a new system to prevent low clearance truck strikes:

After a large number of trucks crashed into bridges on Westchester’s parkways last year, the NY DOT responded by implementing an infrared detection system. After several months of construction, the system has recently been implemented to catch drivers entering the bridges either by accident or illegally. The infrared system works by sensing oversized trucks that are entering any of the four ramps to the Hutch from Westchester Avenue in Harrison or the southbound entrance from Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains. When the system detects an oversized truck, it uses large electronic billboards to tell the driver to pull over and wait for the police. The system also notifies the DOT’s traffic management center.

Expensive Solutions to an Expensive Problem

Critics may argue that high-tech solutions to warn truck drivers are too expensive, but the alternative may be even more expensive. Financial experts estimate that the bridge collapse in Saldano cost millions in lost productivity alone, not to mention the cost of cleanup and repairs. And you cannot put a price on the value of lost life.

Until then, as usual, the responsibility for preventing low clearance strikes falls on the shoulders of truck drivers. Smart preparation, experience, and staying alert and focused are the truck driver’s best protection against bridge strikes. Making sure to have the proper permits before heading out with an oversized load is also essential. Experts recommend that if you do use a GPS system designed for trucks that you make sure to update it frequently. Also recommended? An up to date copy of the Rand McNally Motor Carrier’s Road Atlas.

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