Covered bridges are taking a beating from drivers misguided by GPS

Towing crews clean up pieces of wood after a U-Haul truck hit the Long Grove covered bridge on Robert Parker Coffin Road in 2021.
John Starks/, 2021

The antique charm of Long Grove’s historic covered bridge on Robert Parker Coffin Road has captivated producers of romantic comedies and couples exchanging nuptial 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 pass through.

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 put in where they want to go and sometimes the shorter distance will be across the bridge,” Long Grove Village President Bill Jacob said.

The problem isn’t just Long Grove’s. The 140-year-old Miller’s Run bridge in the small town of Lyndon, Vermont — known as the “Covered Bridge Capital” of the region — has been hit several times by trucks guided by GPS systems. Similar crashes have been reported from New England to Ohio, and from suburban Atlanta to downstate Princeton, Illinois.

This selection of undated still frames from security video camera footage provided by Michael Grant shows a variety of oversized box trucks crashing through 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 portals and broken or missing roof braces,” Bill Caswell, president of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, told The Associated Press. “Even with all the warnings, the barriers are still struck.”

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

Jacob was even a witness to one of the crashes, this one involving a party bus. His efforts to get the driver to stop before striking the bridge were not successful.

“We’ve been working with Google Maps and Waze to try to take it out of the navigation,” Jacob said. “And somehow it ends up back in.”

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

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

A spokesperson for Google said its Maps app is intended for drivers of standard-sized vehicles.

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

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

“It is incumbent upon the trucker, the trucking company, somebody in that process, to make sure that they have the right type of system,” he said.

One such system is Drivewyze Free, which offers commercial truck drivers safety alerts and advisories about potential roadway risks ahead.

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

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

Even if led to the Long Grove bridge by GPS, drivers receive ample warnings about its height, Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli said. Signs alert drivers that no trucks or buses are allowed to proceed and indicate the maximum clearance.

“I can’t even tell you the number of signs there,” Jacob added. “They are all the way up and down the road.”

When a truck or bus strikes the bridge, drivers typically are 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 strikes cause minimal, if any, structural damage to the bridge, which has a steel frame sheathed in wood. However, Covelli points out, every time it happens an engineer is required to examine the structure to see if it is safe for traffic.

“The bridge is winning every time,” Jacob said. “When something hits it, for the most part, it causes more damage to the vehicle and very cosmetic damage to the bridge. So it’s kind of working as designed.”

· The Associated Press contributed to this report

The top of a box truck slammed into Long Grove’s covered bridge on Feb. 1, 2021, leaving the truck more damaged than the bridge.
Courtesy of Jeffery Taylor

Lake County sheriff’s police work the scene after the covered bridge in Long Grove was hit by a school bus in August 2020.
Courtesy of Kurt Fuqua

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