When it comes to low clearance bridges and overpasses, we never cease to be amazed at how some professional truck drivers think they can outsmart them or squeeze underneath them anyway.
So, here is an overview of the subject and information about how to watch out for and avoid problems.
You're a professional.
You're supposed to know well in advance of going under an overpass whether or not your truck has the clearance to do so safely.
Many large roads (particularly interstate and U.S. roads) in the USA have overpasses with more than enough space for commercial motor vehicles to safely pass under.
To the best of our knowledge, all permanent low clearances (at least in the continental USA) are well marked -- both on the roads and in the front of a good motor carrier road atlas (like the one shown below).
There was a partial listing of bridge heights online, but it appears to have been removed.
See here a photo of a low clearance sign, telling drivers that the height is 11'7" tall.
We will be the first to admit that there are some roads (even some interstates and toll roads) where only a part of an overpass is too low for a standard 13'6" truck to go under (usually along the shoulder).
Here, the low part of the bridge is 12'7" high, but the road is perfectly passable for 13'6" tall trucks.
Some professional drivers have relied on non-trucking specific GPS units to route them.
In following the advice of the device (and not authoritative instructions), they have unwittingly set themselves up for failure.
They may think, "But my GPS told me to go this way!" and proceed on without consulting their atlas, taking heed of warning signs or using common sense.
In October 2009, FoxNews.com reported in an article entitled "GPS Causing Truckers to Crash Into Bridges"(1):
New York state wants to crack down on truckers who rely on satellite devices to direct them onto faster but prohibited routes and end up crashing into overpasses that are too low for their rigs.
New York state alone has seen more than 1,400 bridge strikes in the past 15 years, including 46 so far this year in suburban Westchester County, testing many old bridges already in need of repair, said County Executive Andrew J. Spano. One bridge in his county was hit nine times this year.
"This sort of culture of just following the GPS and almost ignoring the road signs has created this public hazard," Paterson told reporters.
If you're in the market for a Global Positioning System (GPS) in your truck, be sure that it is designed for large trucks (commercial motor vehicles) and has low clearance information.
Here are news reports about truckers who failed to avoid a low clearance and what happened:
"A Mississauga truck driver is facing several charges after his truck struck a notoriously low bridge in Tonawanda, New York and continued on its way — despite having its back doors blown off by the impact of the collision."
The driver indicated that he was relying on a GPS unit when he took the route that includes the low bridge. That's an explanation police have heard frequently from truck drivers in the past. They estimate two dozen trucks have become stuck beneath the overpass over the past 10 years. Larger signs have been erected to try to dissuade truck drivers from using the bridge, but the incidents continue to occur."
The driver was charged with "reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident, imprudent speed and exceeding bridge height limits."
If the second set of articles refers to the same road, then you can clearly see from this image (taken along I-95) that the south bound sign for Hutchinson Parkway states (in image form at top) "No Trucks" and has the words "PASSENGER CARS ONLY" in white underneath.
It may have been difficult to see the "No Trucks" part of the sign on top at 2 a.m., but no one should have had difficulty seeing the white part of the sign that reads "PASSENGER CARS ONLY" (in all capital letters). If you are professional driver, you need to become familiar with a "No Trucks" sign and become sensitive to it.
Many metropolitan areas in the USA were built long before the large modern trucks of today were even thought about.
Of particular concern to many truck drivers is driving in the northeastern USA and Chicago.
Truckers must continually be on their guard for low clearances, truck restrictions, local truck routes, etc.
Once, when we were fairly new truckers with Swift, we were routed to take a load to the Jacob Javitz Convention Center in New York City.
The shipper routed us to take Exit 1, Hudson Parkway.
We were not experienced with looking for truck restrictions in New York up to that time.
When we got to the exit, lo and behold, we found out that we couldn't take the route given to us.
It is expressly forbidden for commercial motor vehicles.
On the fly, we had to find an alternate route to get down to the customer -- and also route ourselves back out without incident.
If it had not been for the fact that we were a team and the non-driving team member could quickly consult an atlas, this could have proven to be a very bad situation.
The following are some photos that we took going into New York City from New Jersey. They are probably the same as they were the day we had a load going to Manhattan.
When you're heading into New York City (or other metropolitan areas), you need to be alert for signs like these.
We have some other photos below.
A June 8, 2011, article entitled "Truckers fail to heed 'low clearance' signs at Chestnut and U.S. 65" describes a situation in which construction taking place on a bridge will bring the clearance down to 13'1" temporarily, but the street will not be closed to all traffic and hence there will be no detours.(4)
This is a very tricky situation because
"The truckers are going to have to find their way," [MoDOT spokesman Bob] Edwards said. "We can't set a detour out because it's still open."
Trailer roof damage can happen at the front or back.
Here are two photos showing trailer roof damage at the front of the trailer, most likely from taking the trailer under a low clearance.
Note that the top of the tractor's air deflector does not come up to the height of the trailer.
Another example of roof damage to a truck that a driver tried to take under a low clearance bridge was in May 2012 at the Lincoln Tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey (see photo).
Most of the time when a bridge is struck by a truck driver who tried to take his truck under a low clearance, he or she has to get towed out.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a driver was actually able to free his truck in July 2012, though not without damage.
If you zoom in on the top photo, you can see that the bridge height was listed as 13'0", definitely too short for a 13'6" rig to go under.
A classic "can opener" situation is at the 11 foot, 8 inch railroad trestle in Durham, North Carolina.
We have personally had some stressful experience in dealing with low clearances, all of which happened when we were driving for Swift.
By way of background, in 1993, Swift ran two different heights of trailers, the standard 13'6" variety that could be used anywhere in the continental USA and the 14'3" double trailers (aka "high cube doubles") that were used out west.
As you can imagine, a bridge or overpass that may not be considered a "low clearance" for a truck of standard height may suddenly become so when one is driving a higher profile vehicle. The following situations may not be in the order in which they occurred, but we most certainly experienced them.
While we have a couple of photos above showing trailer roof damage to the front of a trailer that tried going under a low clearance, the following photos show low clearance damage to the back of a trailer -- including the back doors.
This view shows how badly the roof was damaged from inside.
This view shows the damage by looking straight at the back of the trailer.
This view shows the damage from the side.
That right door has practically been demolished.
If you have a GPS unit specifically made for commercial motor vehicles, keep the updates updated.
However, don't rely on the unit exclusively unless you want to run the risk of getting wedged under a bridge and have to deal with an embarrassing situation, exorbitant fine, and the loss of your job.
You need to have another reliable source that you can consult and that is a good map book or truckers atlas.
We personally recommend getting an up-to-date, large scale, spiral bound, laminated road carrier's atlas.
Update your atlas at least every other year to get the most recent updates in road construction, road restriction and other highway data.
If you don't know how to read a map book, you need to learn.
Make yourself familiar with the information in the front of the book (before the maps) to learn about low clearance overpasses, weight restrictions, hazmat restrictions and more.
Certain locations are known for a plethora of low clearances.
Chief among them are the northeastern USA and Chicago!
Therefore, if you are going into an area known for its low clearances, make sure you have extremely accurate directions before going to your customer.
We have always relied upon using a Motor Carriers atlas -- aka truckers atlas -- for routing a Commercial Motor Vehicle, the same kind you see listed here from Amazon.com, with which we have an affiliate relationship.
Rand McNally Motor Carriers' Road Atlas Deluxe Edition
(laminated and spiral bound for heavy-duty users)
If need be, get the telephone number for your customer and call them.
You will want to speak with somebody who knows how to get commercial motor vehicles routed in.
As a general rule, Mike has found this to be on the shipping side.
However, there may be a case in which none of the workers at the receiver may know how to route a truck in.
Once when Mike worked for Epes, he had to deliver a load in New Jersey to a wholesale club.
Mike's driver manager talked with 5 people on the inside at the receiver's end who all knew how to get there in a car -- but could not tell a large truck how to do the same.
We have found this to be a rare situation.
If you have to call for directions, make sure they know that you're driving a big truck or commercial motor vehicle so that they know you're not in something smaller.
Remember, too, that low clearance problems can also happen around buildings, docks and any construction locations.
Any time you are entering and exiting a building, be aware not just of the building but also anything protruding from it.
Make sure that you have adequate clearance to enter truck bays of any kind that have roll-up doors (that is, that the doors have gone up all the way before you move).
Just in case you thought that this is a "semi" issue only, other shorter work trucks and box trucks have also gotten stuck under bridges.
Money saving tip: If your CMV-specific GPS unit allows you to obtain updates, allow it to download or fetch them as often as they are issued.
Not obtaining the most recent GPS info is kind of like having spyware that can get new definitions without downloading them.
It does your computer no good.
Plan in advance. Plan ahead. Don't be short-sighted.
Know how to get in and out of areas with low clearance bridges and overpasses.
Be especially careful in places you've never been before.
Don't be afraid to ask for directions from someone who is knowledgeable.
Sometimes information provided over the CB radio can be very helpful.
Evaluate the information you get so you don't wind up in trouble.
Do not rely strictly on directions you can obtain from the Internet.
Not only do they not usually report low clearances, but in some cases, the directions are absolutely false.
Vicki was going to a business conference back in 2008, and the location that came up on Google Maps was about 12 miles away from the actual location!
Although it was reported that Google Maps was going to have truck routing, we have never seen it.
Remember that in the winter, snow and ice can accumulate on roads.
Any build-up on the road can shorten the clearance under overpasses.
If necessary, call the DOT of the state where you're in to determine any trouble spots. The phone numbers are listed in the front of your atlas.
Read and heed all warning signs. Watch out for them. Never take risks. (Hint: This applies to drivers of straight trucks, too.)
Don't risk losing your job!
1. http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2009/10/17/gps-causing-truckers-crash-bridges/?test=latestnews (no longer online)
2. https://www.mississauga.com/news/article/1073738--truck-driver-charged-in-collision-with-bridge (no longer online)
3. http://www.lohud.com/article/20110526/NEWS02/110526001/Hutch-closed-N-B-Rye-Brook-tractor-trailer-hits-King-Street-overpass?odyssey=nav|head (no longer online)
4. http://www.news-leader.com/article/20110608/NEWS01/106080397/0/NEWS11/ (no longer online)