Owner of bus sounds like he's blaming GPS distraction, not driver's inability to read

WPVI in Philadelphia talked to the owner of the bus that crashed into the Western Avenue overpass last night:

"He said he looked at the GPS, looked down to make the turn and when he looked back up, the bridge was a low bridge, he hit the low bridge," said Talmedge.

Massachusetts State Police, however, say the driver should never have been there in the first place and that the entrances to Soldiers Field Road all have warning signs.

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Imagine how worse it could have been...

...if the driver was using the Apple Maps app.

There isn't a "big vehicle" version of GPS software that takes low-clearances and stuff into account?

Kinda reminds me of when I drove a U-Haul up to Boston when I moved her 30 years ago. I asked AAA for a good route for a truck, they put me on the Garden State Parkway.

Truck Directions

I drive a truck all around the Northeast part time using an Android for directions. I'm always looking for truck routes but haven't seen a cheap or free app for them. I've come to the conclusion that this info is valuable. Henceforth, owners of it want to get paid, and truckers have money to pay. So I always have to reinterpret Google Maps for the truck. First rule of thumb: if you see "parkway", beware. Most ban trucks. Many have low bridges.

Driver, not device, responsible

My GPS doesn't know the difference between the Independent in Union Square Somerville and the Independent (???) in some warehouse on a cobblestoned alley called North Union off Mystic.

Ok.. so I had the advantage of already knowing where I was going, but it made me think of all the people who may end up there by mistake. But.. use your head and read signs. What's a GPS supposed to be good for around here anyway..with something like five different Washington Streets?

Greater Boston needs a crowd-sourced GPS built upon years of knowledge and sitting in traffic. If you grew up in Somerville or Southie, get on it. :)

Ah, GPS...

I was walking down Union St. in Brighton and had somebody ask me where the Union Oyster House was, because his GPS said it was there somewhere. I didn't know where the Union Oyster House was either, so the best I could do was "Well, Comm Ave is that way...".

People & GPS

In my experience, the overwhelming majority of GPS misrouting is actually due to user error, but people like to blame the device. Fragile egos and all.

Trying to reconstruct his route

I was thinking about this last night. If he got on at JFK/N Harvard, there's ONE sign telling you to stay right to get to the Pike (5th line to read on the sign). You have to see it AS you are trying to merge onto Soldier's Field Road. Then you are in a blind right bend and the ramp is unlabeled and doesn't look like it takes you anywhere near the Pike since it first has to meet Western Ave. Meanwhile, that access road is called "Soldier's Field Road" by most GPS software so your hearing to "merge onto Soldier's Field Road", which you are figuring you just did successfully by moving left. Then, WHAM, bridge. Even worse if you are wondering at the same time if you probably should have taken that ramp or your GPS starts complaining about "Recalculating" even though you thought you were on the right track.

I mean it's not like he was following his GPS downtown to go back to Philly...so, the best fix here is to better make that Western Ave ramp, AT the ramp, clearer that it is also for I-90.

GPS Reliance Fail

The driver is absolutely at fault here.

1. How many hours did this guy have, sitting around in the bus in Harvard Square, to read a damn map and plan the return route?

2. Anybody who drives a tall vehicle - bus or truck - and uses a standard GPS map set is not going to get critical information such as "don't use this road because of low bridges".

How many times does this accident have to be repeated before bus companies and drivers get it? How many people have to be killed and maimed? Are commercial map sets for GPS that expensive? Really? Can't the Fed just require them NOW?

Earlier this week, I picked up a rental car in Harvard Square and headed for I-90 from there. It is tricky (and there is road construction, too), but I knew I was not familiar with the ramps and I got out google maps over lunch and familiarized myself with the route ahead of time. Call me semi-old fashioned for doing so, but it made life a heck of a lot easier in an unfamiliar zone. When I got to my destination city several hours later, and my cel phone flaked out (you need to download and install a new voice thingy ... please click here while you are in heavy traffic in an unfamiliar area!!!), I was similarly prepared having looked at a map ahead of time. I'm not even a professional driver.

You are correct, sir!

I drive a truck around Boston regularly. Anybody driving a tall vehicle, especially a professional with many lives at a stake, knows to constantly be on guard for low bridges. Any road which includes the name "parkway" immediately raises my suspicion that this may not be the correct road for me. "No" is the default position unless I find trucks ARE allowed. And this driver was from Philly, not some quiet rural area where this stuff doesn't come up. Finally, I liked your point about the driver figuring out where he's going beforehand. Spot on in my experience. I always take a look to see how to get out of town and onto the highway. Unfortunately, the easy availability GPS has given us a problem with many lazy and/or dumb people blindly following wherever it tells them to go. These kind of people don't bother checking routes.

One problem here

Nothing about "Memorial Drive", "Soldier's Field Road", or "Storrow Drive" says "Parkway".

Maybe they should be "Memorial Parkway", "Soldier's Field Parkway", and "Storrow Parkway".

Or maybe we should just change their names to "No Trucks or Buses Drive", "Low Bridges Road", and "Storrow Drive" (come on, we gotta have something to bet on come September 1st every year!).

Story Doesn't Jive

That story does not add up.

We know what overpass the driver hit, the one where Western Ave crosses Storrow, while he was traveling on the inbound lane. That means he got on Storrow (and considering he was coming from Harvard Square) most likely at the JFK/North Harvard bridge).

On entering the Storrow on ramp from the JFK bridge he hit the giant hanging sign which is at a height to have hit and completely obscured his windshield and made a loud bang in the process:
http://goo.gl/maps/Qf717

He then traveled some 350 or so meters further down Storrow drive, barely squeezing under the foot bridge between the John Weeks bridge and HBS:
http://goo.gl/maps/H7eXL

He then traveled another 350 or so meters and would have seen an exit he could have taken to get off Storrow at Western Ave. had he thought, "Maybe I should not be here, and isn't that a low bridge coming up with a height warning sign?":
http://goo.gl/maps/Oko7E

He neglected to take the exit and proceeded down to the underpass that goes below Western Ave, again ignoring the height warning sign for the bridge of 10':
http://goo.gl/maps/0wQcs

He must have been going pretty fast because instead of smashing into the bridge and coming to a stop or getting wedged under it, he managed to crash right on through it, coming to a stop here, far past the bridge itself:
http://goo.gl/maps/TGUBK

Therefore if he looked down to make the turn and then looked up and there was the bridge - he was looking down for at least a couple minutes perhaps, all while navigating along almost a kilometer of the road.

Why don't we improve that ramp signage?

Instead of a few dinky signs up the ramp, why isn't there one of these for the eastbound drivers like there is for westbound traffic approaching River St on a fairly similar blind right bend?

http://goo.gl/maps/CPasz

Also, on your way westbound to the ramp at River St, there's ANOTHER set of "cars only" windshield slappers over the two through lanes to deter you from going into the underpass, as well as a height-triggered neon warning sign with flashing lights too! But there's no such thing for eastbound.

http://goo.gl/maps/mfhsz

In fact, if you were a driver who made it under the obviously-higher footbridge connecting Harvard Business School to the river, then you are probably (incorrectly and stupidly) assuming you're going to clear the rest of the bridges coming up too.

Really ?

Come on people . GPS is not to blame here. The height restriction signs are clear as can be . He had to drive under a sign and hit it to get on the road ! Clearly it was driver error ! I'm sick of people not taking responsibility and looking to blame something or someone else .

"Low Clearance"

How low is the actual clearance? Oh wait, the sign doesn't state that, just "Low Clearance".

"Cars Only". Why cars only? Because the road can't actually handle bigger vehicles, or because abutters don't want those "evil" trucks and buses on their "scenic parkway".

"No Trucks or Buses". It would be nice if you told the driver that BEFORE he's all the way through his turn and has committed to the entrance ramp.

GPS may not be to blame here, but do you really expect commercial drivers to be mind readers. Esepcially when the DCR puts up non-standard signing (or signs that are too small) to warn of the hazards and restrictions.

Easier said than done

in Boston. If a sign isn't unreadable, there's a good chance it's not standardized. Add to it the confusing road network, and we live up to our reputation of a drivers nightmare.

Honestly, how about stop signs on the ramps and clearly posted height restrictions at entrances?

Force them to stop, put the bars back in that you can't really miss:

IMAGE(http://www.cisco-eagle.com/catalog/images/Product/medium/IdealShield_ClearanceBarApparatus_SW.jpg)

Pretty sure someone has said these used to be installed, until they were removed or let to rot because this state doesn't do maintenance beside repaving roads.

We Sure

it was inbound? Sometimes details get mixed up.

There's also the possibility that the sign isn't there anymore. Looking at several of them on google maps, a few look to be bent and hanging by a thread.

Let's take this from the top

Let's ignore the GPS aspect of this and go from the top.

I've worked as a "step-on" tour guide in Boston for 30 years now. That means I get paid to meet a group like this (and their bus) when they arrive in Boston; I guide them on a tour (usually part bus and part walking) and I help the bus driver navigate the city; and when my shift is over, I make sure that the driver knows how to get out of the city and on the highway to his/her destination. Not every out-of-state tour company hires a local guide in Boston, but the good ones do.

I was doing this long before here were GPS devices or cell phones (and long before the Artery went underground).

I was truly sickened when I read this story last night and was unable to sleep much of the night, worrying about the children.

First, look carefully at the photo in the earlier post (http://twitpic.com/c0fpsk). Through the tinted glass of the bus windows you can see a horizontal line about 1/3 of the way down from the top of the window. In other photos that line goes from the front to the back of the bus. That line is the top of the body panel, i.e. it's the BOTTOM OF THE WINDOW FRAME. The entire bus roof has collapsed so that the overhead compartments are resting on the seat backs. And the entire roof is also pushed back about 5 feet from its normal position. It's a wonder that the injuries weren't worse.

The bus didn't get wedged under the bridge, nor did the roof open up like a sardine can. No, the momentum of the bus caused it to go all the way through the underpass and end up on the other side. He had to be going at a very high speed.

As others have noted, the bus had to have gotten on the parkway at North Harvard Street, by the Anderson Bridge. There's a lot of construction there, and it was dark, so it's possible that the driver didn't see the sign. Or maybe he couldn't speak (or read) English. Still, the "cars only" sign -- if it's still there -- hangs low enough that it should have hit the bus roof as it entered the ramp. (The Google StreetView images are from August 2009.)

(If the bus had been on Soldiers Field Road already, it would have hit the underpass at North Harvard Street.)

As others have noted, the bus would have barely squeaked under the pedestrian overpass next to the Weeks Footbridge.

Then the bus missed the exit that would take it to the Mass. Pike.

Clearly the driver was completely lost. He had not bothered to plan his route or to ask directions from anyone locally. When you, the bus driver, are responsible for the safety of 40 or 50 other people, that is the utmost of irresponsibility. And despite being lost, he was traveling at an excessive rate of speed (as noted above).

Some of the drivers I work with have told me that there are special GPS units that are programmed for large commercial vehicles, but the same drivers have also told me that they are unreliable, they don't always have all the truck and bus exclusions programmed into them. So you still have to rely on common sense.

Let's look at a couple of other things:

From the Facebook page cited by Adam above, we can determine that the group was making a one-day trip, up from Philadelphia to Boston and back in one day. There is a federal regulation (U.S. DOT) on "hours of service" that spells out how many hours a driver can work in one day. That regulation exists solely for safety reasons. While I don't know the exact details of their itinerary, I have a rough idea of how long it takes to drive from Philly to Boston and I think it's highly unlikely that such a trip could be made in one day while in compliance with that regulation. Given the time when the driver had to report for duty at his garage, and thus the time when he had to get out of bed in the morning, it was already a long day for him by the time the accident occurred at 7:30 pm.

In my 30 years in the industry, I've worked with hundreds of bus companies from all over the U.S. and Canada. Ninety-nine percent of the companies, and the drivers, are excellent. But there are companies for whom safety is clearly not a concern. These companies are able to underbid the more responsible bus companies, meaning you often get what you pay for. So if you're looking for a bargain, and you don't watch out, you can get one of the companies that just doesn't care. I don't recall ever working with Calvary Coach, so I can't say anything specific about them. But the fact is, there are irresponsible bus companies out there, and you have to watch out when you're booking a charter, especially if you're looking for a cheap price. And one of the most common ways to cut corners is to ignore the hours-of-service rules.

If you ever hear of a bus or truck driver being cited for "lack of paperwork", it usually means that he/she hadn't been filling out the hours-of-service logbook, and the usual reason for failing to fill it out is because he/she was trying to work a shift that violated the rules.

One of my worst tour experiences ever was last year, when a well-to-do suburban school district from Long Island hired a company that used drivers who couldn't speak or read English, and had never been to Boston. Usually I'm feeling good when a tour ends. In this case, I was unable to rest until the next day, when I could check the newspapers and verify that there hadn't been an accident -- like this one -- on their return to New York.

Although I'm not usually a religious sort, I pray for the recovery of these children and their chaperones.

10 hours behind the wheel, in

10 hours behind the wheel, in a 15 hour workday.

289 miles from Langhorne to Cambridge, plus a few minutes for the driver to get from the bus yard to the school. It's reasonable to do that in 5 hours one way, depending on traffic.