Beware: Murphy’s Law in Passing Under Bridges . . .

East End Bridge

Murphy’s law says: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

There are some safety events and incidents that can almost be predicted. Chicago has many rail lines running in it, through it and around it including the L-line and six of the seven biggest railroads in the U.S., channeling more than 1,300 trains a day. Storrow and Memorial Drive in Boston is famous for its low-clearance overpasses and bridge strikes.

Another town, 12 miles southwest of Boston, is becoming famous as a graveyard for trucks. The East Street Bridge in Westwood, MA, with a clearance of 10 feet 6 inches, has claimed 15 trucks in 2014 and it looks like 2015 may break that record.

Most of the crashes were box trucks, but the toll included:

  • a cement truck
  • several fuel delivery trucks
  • a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority bus (the bridge is owned by MBTA)

Violent end

Police records show the East Street Bridge has been hit many times over the years. Police have installed a camera at the location. A low clearance sign on the bridge was recently knocked off, but there are several other signs leading up to the bridge, including the small sign in the lower right hand of the picture. A number of construction warning signs, shown in the photo, might have been distracting . . .

 Bridge strikeNobody has a solution for the East Street Bridge.

Here are a few tips to avoid Murphy’s Law when driving under a low-clearance bridge:

  • Be aware that advance warning signs are not provided at all low bridges. Signs are stolen, fade away, or are sometimes missing.
  • Some posted sign heights are not always correct. Sometimes the road has been repaved and several inches of clearance has disappeared.


  • bridgingSometimes the front of the vehicle will clear the bridge but the road may rise and this will force the middle of the truck into the bridge. This is called “bridging.”
  • GPS may route a commercial vehicle under a low-clearance bridge. 
  • Following approved routes may not guarantee the absence of a low-clearance bridge or overpass.
  • Ask drivers during their road test or check rides the bridge height, after they have passed under the bridge.
  • Ask drivers the height of the vehicle they are driving. In the UK the height must be posted on the dash by law.

 Having delivered in Chicago and Boston, my approach to clearing a low-clearance bridge or a bridge of unknown clearance is to:

  • Put the 4-ways or warning lights on.
  • Pull up the bridge and check the clearance.
  • Proceed slowly. Stop and check again, if necessary.

In one situation, I had the bottom of bolts from under the bridge start to rub the roof of the truck. I needed to back the truck out. Another driver told me he had to stop when a train went overhead because the bridge deflected under the weight of the train and the bolts were touching his trailer.

Beware of Murphy’s Law

Currently there is a program in Chicago called Create (an acronym for Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program), that will replace 25 rail intersections with overpasses and underpasses. But that is a drop in the bucket to the thousands of low bridges and low-clearance overpasses in the U.S. and the many more ill-prepared drivers.

The most important safety device in a truck is the windshield, with an alert driver sitting behind it.

Stay alert. Stay alive.

Thank you for reading this.

 J Taratuta

John Taratuta is an independent Risk Engineer. (989) 474-9599