Truck drivers misjudging vehicle heights and crashing into overhead bridges have been in the news a lot lately. Indeed they’re quite a hit (sorry about that one) with the media, who seem to relish the drama and mayhem and embarrassment of the driver concerned.
Melbourne seems to be the capital of such crashes, where the sheer number of overhead rail lines and large vehicles makes for a dangerous mix. Footscray’s Napier Street Bridge, which has been hit an astonishing 70 times in 12 years, and Montague Street in South Melbourne – at least 110 times and counting – seem to be vying for the unwanted Gold Medal in bridge strikes.
But before the rest of Australia starts sniggering at those silly Melbourne drivers it’s worth pointing out that Bleak City is hardly alone when it comes to monumental bridge height stuff-ups. Perth’s Bayswater bridge has been hit so many times it has its own dedicated web site recording the days since the last one (just 20 at the time of writing). Bridge strikes are also on the rise in Queensland, with no less than 94 of them on the southeast Queensland rail network in 2017-18.
It’s a problem right across Australia that’s getting worse with the increased traffic on our roads. And it’s one that defies any obvious solutions. The usual knee-jerk response – calls for tougher penalties – don’t help much when the truck is already a mangled wreckage jammed under a bridge. Great big warning signs clearly stating the height are routinely ignored by drivers. The Napier Street bridge has no less than 28 of them on its approach. The Montague Street bridge now has height gantries installed with noisy rubber flaps giving drivers a loud and unmissable warning that their vehicles are too high for the bridge. Incredibly some simply ignore it, drive on and get stuck. What were they thinking?
The worst crash at the Montague Bridge occurred in February 2016 when Gold Bus Ballarat driver Jack Aston attempted to drive his 3.8-metre-high bus full of passengers under the clearly marked 3 metre bridge. Six passengers were seriously injured as well as the driver, who subsequently pleaded guilty to negligently causing serious injury. What’s really disturbing is that it was the second time the company’s buses had hit the same bridge.
It’s hard to come up with a solution to the problem in the face of such determinedly daft driving. Perhaps we’ll have to wait until “smart vehicles” and “smart road infrastructure” is so advanced that a “smart bridge” will automatically detect an oncoming over-height vehicle and remotely apply its brakes, stopping it in its tracks and preventing the big bang.
Such high-tech solutions are obviously still some way off. In the meantime, the onus is on people in charge of fleets and deliveries to carefully plan routes that avoid high vehicles encountering low bridges. How hard can that be?