When Eisenhower spearheaded the development of the interstate highway system, part of the plan included standards for minimum vertical clearance of bridges. These standards were developed with the aid of the military to allow unhindered movement of troops and supplies. The strategic move led to a standardization of roadways and cargo trucks that is still in place today.

But what about bridges that were built before the standard was enacted? Historic covered bridges, long a favorite of landscape painters, certainly don’t meet the requirements. Other historic structures remain in place as well, a tribute to the hard work and craftsmanship of our forebearers. We maintain them with pride, but these aging structures present a road hazard that requires attention.

Low bridges cause problems for big rigs

On Christmas Day last year, 23-year-old Mary Lambright tried to cross a historic cast-iron bridge in Indiana while driving a tractor-trailer. The bridge didn’t meet minimum safe height requirements (though this information was clearly posted). Additionally, Lambright’s tractor-trailer was overweight by nearly 30 tons. The tractor-trailer became wedged on the bridge, which quickly collapsed beneath the heavy load.

In early January of this year, Durham Bridge in North Carolina claimed yet another victim. The bridge, infamously known as the “can opener”, stands more than two feet lower than the national minimum vertical clearance. Since 2008, a worker in a nearby office building has recorded over 100 crashes involving tall trucks that ignored the many posted warning signs leading up to the low bridge.

In both cases, the bridges in question are landmarks; they have been around longer than most of the residents in their respective towns. Renovating or demolishing the bridges is unthinkable; they are a piece of history, and renovations are often impractical and cost prohibitive. In addition, as part of the interstate highway system development, areas with structures that don’t meet the minimum vertical clearance are required to have at least one alternative route for large trucks.

The real problem

The trouble is driver inattention, compounded by the harsh working conditions that most truckers face on a daily basis. Fatigue contributes to poor decision-making, even when confronted with simple information about how to proceed. Our landmarks may pose a hazard, but we submit that their intrinsic value outweighs the risk.

So how do we minimize the risk? Clearly, the mandated warning signs that are designed to alert drivers of a low clearance obstacle aren’t working. Even in extreme cases, where flashing lights surround a bridge, accidents still happen. New collision detection and warning systems are helping to prevent accidents already, but drivers still have a responsibility to sit up and pay attention.

When truck drivers are tired and distracted, accidents happen. Big trucks cause big accidents, and when they do, your life can change in an instant. If you or someone you know has been injured in a commercial truck accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and lost work. Contact the experienced Tennessee truck accident attorneys at Rocky McElhaney Law Firm today for a free consultation in Nashville, Gallatin or Knoxville. We fight for you rights. We fight for you.