Smugglers Notch, Vermont, catches many unwary truckers
Perhaps it is the beautiful Vermont scenery that takes truckers’ attention, or perhaps it is misleading or obscure signage, but every year dozens of tractor-trailer drivers get caught out. Some are able to extricate themselves before emergency services arrive.
|The Green Mountains near Smugglers|
Notch in Vermont
But many get stuck literally between a rock and a hard place on one of Smugglers Notch’s numerous tight switch-backs. Just to make the crisis more critical, the Notch has some exceptionally steep pinches along the way. Only a minority of experienced truckers have made it through, usually with some damage.
Smugglers Notch lies on Vermont Route 108 between Jeffersonville and Stowe, a distance of 15 miles. The road climbs onto the shoulder of Mount Mansfield, which at 4,900 feet is Vermont’s highest peak. The Notch, a series of tight S bends with rocky outcrops, is at about the half-way point.
The name Smugglers Notch came from it being a route for supplying the British Army in Canada during the war of 1812. President Thomas Jefferson imposed a trade embargo with Canada and Britain, something that didn’t sit well with Vermonters. In 1894, the old smugglers route became a formed road and underwent several later improvements. Smugglers Notch reinforced its reputation and name during the Prohibition period as a supply route south for illicit liquor.
|This sign is too late for a 70-foot rig|
to turn around
Route 108 in Vermont is a scenic area that is popular with skiers, and tourists wanting the catch the fall colours. It passes through Smugglers Notch State Park and snakes around several rugged peaks. Perhaps some drivers have been distracted by the scenery.
Both ends of Route 108 are well-formed and give no hint of the trap that lies ahead for drivers of vehicles over 46 feet in length, the maximum size permitted. Standard US semi-trailers are 53 feet long, not including the tractor unit. A few minutes on Google Street View failed to locate the warning signs for truckers at the southern Stowe end. No doubt they are there – somewhere – among the plethora of business signs.
It is not as though Vermont’s Route 108 is nationally known and every trucker should know about it. On a map it is just one of many thousands of secondary routes nationwide, with nothing to forewarn of its potential for disaster.
|Now it's a job for a crane|
There can be many reasons why drivers may fail to see warning signs, or fail to correctly interpret signs. The positioning of signs can be critical. Often, as I have driven in unfamiliar areas, it has been hard to know which particular road a sign applies to. Sometimes signs can be difficult to see due to lighting or glare, or obstructions. Some signs are ambiguous. However, the most common signage fault that keeps cropping up is that the sign is located in a position where the driver cannot see it until it is too late. Many has been the time I have turned a corner to be confronted by an obstruction or a sign, and then have had to reverse out against the traffic.
For some drivers, even after they realise their mistake, it can be tempting to continue on a little further, expecting to find somewhere to turn around. Backing a 53-foot semi-trailer around multiple hair-pin bends is not an easy option, even for old hands.
|Vermont 108 from|
Jeffersonville to Stowe
True, most of the drivers that have found themselves trapped in Smugglers Notch, have been inexperienced, and some will say that that is no excuse. Well, it is also no excuse for old hands to criticize the newbies. Everyone has to start somewhere, and they should remember that. Friendly advice and a helping hand is always better than harsh criticism.
But even some of the old hands have been caught out in Smugglers Notch. The authorities and people who know the area will claim that the signage is adequate and there is no excuse for getting stuck. But still it happens and so obviously something is not right and someone is passing the buck. The authorities need to revisit Smugglers Notch with an open mind. They need to understand that some of these drivers may be 3,000 miles from home and making their first ever visit to Vermont.
Meanwhile, trapped truck drivers can expect a $2,000 fine and a bill from Polar Bear Towing’s Jim Grover running to thousands more. Other drivers wanting to use the route can expect delays of at least two or three hours while the cranes move in.
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