Road To Nowhere: Blumenthal Calls For Big Tech Companies To Update GPS Apps | Connecticut Public Radio

Road To Nowhere: Blumenthal Calls For Big Tech Companies To Update GPS Apps

Jan 13, 2020

Sen. Richard Blumenthal is joining with lawmakers from New York and Massachusetts in asking big tech companies like Apple and Google to help truckers avoid accidents and collisions with bridges.

He wants GPS apps like Waze, Google Maps and Apple Maps to include height and weight restrictions for limited-access highways like the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways.

“They are directed to this road by GPS or one of the other apps that fails to tell them the Merritt becomes a road to nowhere for trucks when they’re stuck under these overpasses,” Blumenthal said during a news conference held on the side of the Wilbur Cross Parkway.

In a joint letter addressed to Google, Apple and Waze, Blumenthal, along with Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), said that while GPS apps “offer valuable directions for passenger traffic” they don’t “currently make available information about national road restrictions like those on height, weight or hazardous materials.” 

“As more commercial vehicle drivers use these applications, we can expect accidents and damage to roadways to increase, unless a solution is found,” the letter reads.

According to Blumenthal’s office, one bridge on the Merritt Parkway has been hit nearly 150 times during the past decade. Truck drivers have told state police that “GPS is the No. 1 reason why they were diverted onto the road.”

When truck drivers use smartphone-based navigation apps, they’re at risk of hitting bridges or getting stuck under underpasses, which can create severe traffic delays for miles, much like the ones they sought to avoid on I-95, 91 or other heavily traveled highways.

The Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut represents several small business trucking companies across the state. President Joe Sculley said the majority of their members use navigation systems by various companies that are either built into the truck or incorporated as an aftermarket device.

“Because they’re based here, they know the roads that they drive on,” Sculley said. “I think that a lot of the systems that we see where trucks wind up on the Merritt are from out-of-state truck drivers who are not using these commercial, truck-specific systems.”

But regardless of where the driver is from, when a truck hits a bridge or overpass, an accident can create delays, damage roadways and overpasses or result in fatalities.

“I think he’s onto a good idea to work with these companies to build something into their systems,” Sculley said of Blumenthal’s proposal. “With all the capabilities that these companies have, I think it’s probably very easy to do and I think it may come down to being one of the most common-sense solutions towards addressing this problem.”

While some drivers have suggested posting clearer signage, Wes Haynes of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy said that falls short of addressing a larger issue at hand.

“It’s a real mess,” Haynes said. “Sen. Blumenthal’s demand is really the right fix for this. We cannot engineer our way out of this. Adding signs, markings on the roads -- those are all treating symptoms. It’s really the fact that GPS providers are just simply unwilling to respond to our requests that they come up with a standardized system to identify truck-restricted roads in the United States.”

According to Haynes, the providers’ responses to their requests were along the lines of “it’s not our problem, it’s your problem,” something he says is “not a pretty appropriate response.”

Blumenthal said he hopes that the Google, Apple and Waze will “do the right thing without new legislation,” but if no action is taken, he says he’s prepared to introduce a bill.