Is Google Maps Getting Tractor Trailers Stuck in This Mountain Pass?

The “Smugglers’ Notch” mountain pass between the towns of Stowe and Cambridge Vermont is known for being a beautiful motorcycle ride, providing access to scenic hikes, and trapping tractor-trailer trucks. The high point of VT’s Route 108 is an S-turn snaking between massive, glacier-deposited boulders. It has always been impassable for long trucks. But in recent years, more drivers are getting stuck–possibly because they are following GPS systems such as Google Maps.

Vermont’s Route 108 passes through Smugglers’ Notch

A tow truck driver attempts to pull a Ram Cummins pickup truck with a heavy trailer back onto the road of the Smuggler's Notch mountain pass.
Truck stuck in Smuggler’s Notch | NBC5 WPTZ via Youtube

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Vermont’s Route 108 is one of the most scenic drives in the country. At its highest point, it crosses over the Green Mountains, through the infamous “Smugglers’ Notch.”

Hikers, bikers, motorcyclers, and sports car enthusiasts all share a love of Route 108. Its winding turns carry you up out of Stowe Vermont, through the breathtakingly narrow notch, and down into Cambridge Vermont.

Tractor trailer truck drivers are not big fans of Smugglers’ Notch.

This is because the summit of the notch road winds between a series of house-size boulders. These boulders were deposited by glaciers and proved far too heavy for the road-builders to move. So the road closes to one lane and winds through the rocks. The result may make for pretty driving or hiking, but it is sure to trap a large truck.

To navigate the Green Mountains, drivers of large trucks need to drive to a mountain pass further up or further down the range. Until recently, drivers knew to avoid Smuggler’s Notch and it did not prove a major problem.

Modern truck drivers often get stuck in Smuggler’s Notch

Truck abandoned in a mountain pass at night with its door open and headlights left on.
Tractor trailer stuck in Smuggler’s Notch | NBC5 WPTZ via Youtube

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The state of Vermont claims that large trucks try to navigate Smuggler’s Notch–and get stuck–seven to twelve times per year. This is especially impressive consider the road is only open in the summer.

Pictures of a huge truck stuck between the boulders of the notch always seem to be circulating on social media. They may seem funny to look at. But the truth is that a stuck truck is a real pain for locals.

A trapped truck can cause the road to close for hours. It gets in the way of commuters, prevents tourists from driving through the notch, and blocks customers from getting to local businesses. It also can cost the truck driver or owner thousands in towing bills and fines.

The government may need Google’s help

Tractor trailer stuck in the Stowe Smuggler's Notch mountain pass with a Vermont state trooper's car visible in the foreground.
Tractor trailer stuck in Smuggler’s Notch | NBC5 WPTZ via Youtube

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The state of Vermont has tried everything it can think of to keep large trucks out of Smuggler’s Notch. When you approach the notch on Route 108, you will see huge warning signs and even light-up construction signs warning drivers of the narrow notch. Some of the signs even say “Your GPS is Wrong.”

None of these warnings seem to stop truck drivers from trying to thread the needle because Google Maps say they can.

Josh Schultz of the Vermont Agency of Transportation told NBC’s Channel 5 WPTZ that his aim is, “Convincing GPS providers to give users critical extra information.”

Personally, I believe the state should drop a couple of Jersey barriers on 108, on either side of the notch. If these concrete dividers imitated the shape of the summit S-curves, no trucks too large to navigate the notch could even access the road. But I like simple solutions, even to complex, digital problems.

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