Tall Vehicles and Low Clearance

Learn from my mistakes.

I made it from the Southwestern corner of California, through the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, the Colorado Rockies, the endless Plains of Nebraska, the cornfields of Illinois and Ohio, and even through the dreaded New York City (I may have pulled over in New Jersey, cried a little, and gave myself a pep talk before crossing the Goethals Bridge) in a giant truck + camper I had no prior experience driving. The East End of Long Island was my destination, stopping at my folks along the way. I pulled up in front of their house, feeling as if I had made it. I had about another 90 minutes to drive all the way East but I had 99% of the journey down without a single hitch and I was feeling good.

!!RED FLAG ALERT!! And lesson learned. It ain’t over til it’s over.

I was too confident. I hadn’t yet made it. But I was already counting my blessings.

After seeing my family, I continued the journey East. I plugged in the directions on my iPhone like I had been doing the whole time. “Merge onto the Southern State Parkway” it said. So I did. Ignoring the yellow “Low Clearance” sign I had never trained myself to keep an eye out for. Just when I hit a nice cruising speed of about 55mph, the lowest bridge I had ever seen came up. It was rush hour. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t turn around. I couldn’t get in the center lane (where the clearance was highest). All I could do was hold my breath and hope for the best.


I freaked out. I got off at the nearest exit, found a gas station to stop at, climbed up on my roof to inspect the damage, and again cried a little a lot. It looked bad. But I immediately knew it could have been much worse. The air conditioner and refrigerator shroud and vent was completely torn off. But that was really it. The fiberglass shell was completely untouched.

Retelling this story is difficult for me. To this day, I cringe at the thought of what could have happened. I could have easily totaled the camper I had just spent most of my savings on before ever even getting the chance to move in! Seriously, it haunts me. I know how lucky I am. And I now know to not only look for those yellow signs, but to plan my route ahead of time. The days of driving a passenger car are over. While my truck camper may be more nimble than your typical RV, it is still a rig. It’s still 12’9″ tall, 10′ wide and 24′ long.

Please learn from my mistakes. Either get a specialized GPS or a truckers atlas or use the good old google machine to plan ahead. Ideally all three. I’m still learning as I go. The truckers atlas is great; but it really only gives you major interstates which isn’t exactly what I’m going for. Same with the specialized GPS; it’s not going to put you on the quaint scenic roads I’m trying to find. So it seems like planning beforehand is going to be my best bet along with keeping a watchful eye for the road ahead. Luckily this whole parkway system seems to be mostly a Northeastern thing. But I’m sure low bridges still exist throughout the country and I aim to be better prepared for them the next time we cross avoid paths.