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Misled: Covered bridges criticized by drivers misdirected by GPS

Towing crews clear pieces of wood after a U-Haul truck struck the Long Grove Covered Bridge on Robert Parker Coffin Road in 2021.
John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.com, 2021

The antique charm of the historic Long Grove Covered Bridge on Robert Parker Coffin Road has captivated romantic comedy producers and couples exchanging wedding vows.

But it has also attracted less welcome visitors – trucks and buses too tall to clear its 8⅟₂ foot height. Since reopening after renovations in 2020, the bridge has been struck 66 times by vehicles too large to cross.

And one of the main culprits, besides drivers not paying attention to warning signs, is the use of GPS systems designed for passenger vehicles.

“(Drivers with smartphones) will head where they want to go and sometimes the shortest distance will be to cross the bridge,” Long Grove Village President Bill Jacob said.

The problem isn’t just in Long Grove. The 140-year-old Miller’s Run Bridge in the small town of Lyndon, Vermont – known as the region’s “covered bridge capital” – has been struck repeatedly by trucks guided by GPS systems. Similar accidents have been reported from New England to Ohio, and from suburban Atlanta to upstate Princeton, Illinois.

This selection of undated still images from security video camera footage provided by Michael Grant shows a variety of oversized trucks crashing into the historic Miller’s Run covered bridge in Lyndon, Vermont.
Associated Press

“You can visit many covered bridges throughout Vermont and other states and see broken boards on the gates and broken or missing roof braces,” said Bill Caswell, president of the National Society for the Preservation of Bridges. covered bridges, to the Associated Press. “Despite all the warnings, the barriers remain blocked. »

In one case from 2021, a U-Haul box truck driven by a 73-year-old Nashville man became stuck under the Long Grove Bridge. The driver later told Lake County sheriff’s deputies that he was following his GPS and did not see the warning signs and lights as he approached the bridge.

Jacob even witnessed one of the accidents, this one involving a party bus. His efforts to get the driver to stop before hitting the bridge were unsuccessful.

“We worked with Google Maps and Waze to try to remove it from navigation,” Jacob said. “And somehow it eventually comes back.”

The village also declared Robert Parker Coffin Road a local road so it could approach mapping companies and encourage them to direct only local traffic to the bridge.

“It works (for a while) and then it seems to go away,” Jacob said.

A Google spokesperson said its Maps app is aimed at drivers of full-size vehicles.

“We encourage drivers of trucks and larger vehicles to use navigation tools designed specifically for these types of vehicles,” a Google spokesperson said.

There are specific GPS devices for truckers and commercial vehicles, AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. said.

“It’s the responsibility of the trucker, the trucking company, anyone involved in this process, to make sure they have the right kind of system in place,” he said.

One such system is Drivewyze Free, which provides commercial truck drivers with safety alerts and advice on potential upcoming road hazards.

Martin Murtland, vice president of product at Texas-based Drivewyze, said the system has three elements: in-cab alerts, data-driven insights into hazards, and Drivewyze Hub that fleet managers can use to manage access and data from their fleet.

Drivewyze has about 1,000 bridges in its database, including about 260 in Illinois, and leverages geolocation technology to track when a user enters a risk zone.

Even though they are directed to the Long Grove Bridge by GPS, drivers receive numerous warnings about its height, said Christopher Covelli, Lake County sheriff’s chief deputy. Signs warn drivers that no trucks or buses are allowed to operate and indicate the maximum permission.

“I can’t even tell you how many signs are there,” Jacob added. “They’re all over the road.”

When a truck or bus hits the bridge, drivers are typically cited for disobeying a traffic control device and operating a prohibited vehicle on the bridge. The maximum fine for each citation is $750, Covelli said.

The impacts cause minimal, if any, structural damage to the bridge, which has a steel frame sheathed in wood. However, Covelli points out, whenever this happens, an engineer must examine the structure to see if it is safe for traffic.

“The bridge wins every time,” Jacob said. “When something hits it, most of the time it causes more damage to the vehicle and very cosmetic damage to the deck. So it works as expected.

· The Associated Press contributed to this report

The roof of a box truck slammed into the Long Grove Covered Bridge on February 1, 2021, leaving the truck more damaged than the bridge.
Courtesy of Jeffery Taylor

Lake County Sheriff’s Police respond to the scene after the Long Grove Covered Bridge was struck by a school bus in August 2020.
Courtesy of Kurt Fuqua

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