Griffin, Georgia

Posted by Ellen

Back in the mists of time, very shortly after construction of the first low bridge, they must have installed the first device warning boats or wagons or SUVs with roof racks about that low bridge. Over the centuries, some of these warnings have made it into song, as on the Erie Canal: "Low bridge, everybody down. . . ." Many warnings have made it into video; check out "Low Bridge" on YouTube, or for the less high-minded among you, check out "Low bridge crashes" on YouTube. 

One high-tech warning device uses light sensors to detect vehicles too tall to clear an underpass. When the sensors are tripped, bright lights start flashing on a warning sign. In Durham, North Carolina, this sort of setup also includes two video cameras that start rolling whenever the lights start flashing, to record from multiple angles what drivers do in response to the warning. Many of them kept right on driving; on YouTube, you can join the 382,000 viewers who have "enjoyed" "Thirteen crashes in thirteen months" (11 feet 8 inches).

Keeping that bridge in good repair must have gotten expensive, so the railroad decided to armor the trestle with steel beams mounted at bridge-height a few feet in front of the actual bridge. It's much cheaper and quicker to put up a new beam than to fix a damaged trestle. As of 2009, the beam had been replaced once.

Why do people keep hitting the bridges? If you look at the crash videos, you'll notice that most of the vehicles involved are rental moving vans--in other words, fairly tall trucks being driven by people who are used to driving cars that can fit anywhere. I once drove 1,200 miles in a rented truck, and I definitely could have been a statistic--low bridges, gas station canopies, drive-thru bank tellers, etc., were just not on my regular radar.

Why do we have so many low bridges? Apparently, most are railroad trestles which cannot be raised without major track realignments to avoid steep grades. The alternative of lowering the auto road is also impractical in most cases, especially where it might threaten the foundation of the railroad bridge.

But in Griffin, Georgia, they seem to have come up with a low-tech solution that might grab the attention even of a typically distracted driver like me. If the words on the sign didn't stop me, I suspect that the thwack of hitting the sign might make my day.