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Southern State Parkway bus crash

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A horrific crash on the Southern State Parkway injured many Huntington High School students when a coach bus slammed into an overpass April 9. The accident could have been easily avoided, elected officials said, and we couldn’t agree more.

While we cannot control human error, this should be a wake-up call to re-examine our use of technological safety devices.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he called for improved transportation safety measures at the very same place, Exit 18 at the Eagle Avenue bridge, where an accident occurred in 2012. As a result, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advised truck drivers and commercial vehicles that a new GPS system was available to warn of parkways and roadways along their route with low clearances.

While installing this commercial GPS system into commercial vehicles was highly recommended, Schumer admitted it was not mandated by federal law. Elected officials presumed transportation companies would voluntarily shell out money to improve safety. Decisions regarding passenger safety should not be left in the hands of private corporations. Federal, state and county politicians need to reconsider legislation that would require this vital, potentially life-saving equipment on school buses, coach buses, RVs and other tall passenger vehicles.

This accident also warrants taking a closer look at those new technologies in the process of being installed on Long Island’s parkways. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Dec. 5 of last year that $4.3 million in funds would be spent to install overheight vehicle detectors at 13 locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties. His goal was to use state-of-the-art technology to prevent bridge strikes that can be potentially fatal and snarl traffic for hours.

These detectors are installed at the top of on-ramps and relay an invisible beam set at the specific height needed to clear the parkway’s bridges. If a vehicle breaks the beam, the device triggers a colored LED message sign to flash a warning to the driver, alerting the truck or bus will not clear the bridge.

Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, confirmed these detectors have been installed at the Eagle Avenue overpass, but said they are not yet active due to calibration and testing. Morrissey admitted even if the detectors had been functioning, they would not have prevented the accident. They are not set up to scan for overheight vehicles entering from the Belt Parkway, as the coach bus did.

Elected politicians and transportation officials made the assumption that because buses and commercial vehicles are not allowed on the Belt Parkway, none would enter the Southern State Parkway from that ramp.

Cuomo’s plan to install these vehicle detectors needs to be looked over again to better determine where sensors need to be placed. Additional measures, like notification to highway police when the sensor is set off, should also be considered.

These oversights are putting holes in the safety net.