State Patrol, Garmin Angling for Truck Drivers' Attention

Jul 2, 2013

More commercial truckers are navigating Independence Pass... even though they’re not supposed to. That’s according to the Colorado State Patrol. This summer, officers are doing more to bring those numbers down. And the effort comes as a worldwide GPS company is also trying to get the attention of more drivers.

When traveling east of Aspen on Highway 82, there are several signs warning drivers, saying:

“No trucks over thirty five feet in length can drive up and over Independence Pass.”

Screenshot of portable GPS device for commercial truckers
Credit Garmin International

Captain Rocco Domenico is with the Colorado State Patrol-- the agency in charge of enforcing that restriction.

“What a commercial vehicle's doing is he’s kind of trying to find the closest or shortest route to Denver. And his GPS shows that route as going over independence Pass. Not giving him any of the information of those restrictions in place.”

“Over the past three years I would say that we have seen the increase in truck drivers violating that particular law. And of course once they get up there it’s very dangerous for everybody and it’s very difficult for cars to maneuver around and there’s a safety concern for us.”

Captain Rich Duran is with the State Patrol based in Glenwood Springs. His troopers are charged with keeping an eye on several Western Slope counties... including those overlapping Independence Pass.

“So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to make a presence up there. Have some troopers go up there from time to time and just make a visible presence to try to alleviate the truck drivers from coming up and over.”

A bureaucratic change may make that easier this year-- after some agency reorganization, the same state troopers are monitoring both sides of Independence Pass. Which means, some of his troopers will be stationed closer to Leadville, looking for commercial drivers heading up to Independence Pass.

“On the Twin Lakes side, right before they go up and over. Kind of a truck safety check, but our intention is to try to catch them before they go up and over.”

So--what about those GPS devices? Are they really directing truck drivers to go over a road as steep and narrow as Independence Pass? Aspen Public Radio contacted several Colorado trucking operators to find out what GPS units their drivers use. None responded, so we decided to ask one of the biggest GPS manufacturers out there, Garmin International. Johan Broer is a media specialist.

“Ah yes, we’ve heard of other instances before where truck drivers use GPS devices as they guide them on the roads that are not verified for that truck. And what we experienced is that often times these truck drivers use consumer GPS products, the products that are built for cars, and not for trucks. So these units won’t consider the truck dimensions, and therefore they can’t guide them on the appropriate road.”

Garmin got a lot of questions and complaints about drivers taking the wrong roads... and the company saw market potential in the commercial trucking sector... So they started tailoring GPS devices for truck drivers. Some install directly into the dashboards of new rigs; another is portable. Drivers punch in the length, height, weight, and other specs for their rig. Chad Sallman oversees that and other trucking products for Garmin International, and says that specific information means directions are tailored to the commercial trucker’s needs.

“Understanding their height and which roadways have a low bridge warning that they can’t traverse, or which road has a steep grade or a sharp turn, or even in Kansas for example there’s lateral winds when they’re driving on I-35 when they’re driving between Kansas City and Wichita.”

There are warning icons and sound alerts if a drive takes a route that’s illegal. But that trucking-specific model can be more than twice as expensive Garmin’s consumer version. Sallman says that’s because of all those extra features just for truckers.

“If they would get the appropriate device, they would end up saving themselves a lot more time, money, and efficiency, by having the appropriate device that takes them on the appropriate route.”

And maybe it’s that business incentive that’ll eventually deter more commercial truck drivers from taking Independence Pass... because the fines in place now aren’t exactly fear inducing. Again, Colorado State Patrol Captain Rocco Domenico.

“Well, the penalties currently right now are just a thirty five dollar fine with an eleven dollar surcharge. So the total fine would be approximately forty six dollars.”