CAMBRIDGE — On a map or a GPS navigation unit, the trip from the Smugglers Notch Resort in Cambridge, Vermont, to the Stowe Mountain Resort is only about 5 miles — a trip that for most vehicles takes just over 10 minutes.
But for truckers trying to drive a big rig through the winding pass by Vermont's largest peak, the route can be like a Vise Grip, stopping them between rocks on corners that are so tight that it sometimes requires expensive efforts to free them.
In most cases, the pass — a key summer shortcut on a road that's closed in the winter — is blocked while the truck is moved. But in one recent case, a trailer had to be cut up to get it off the highway.
Vermont officials are fed up. They say truck drivers are only watching their GPS, not paying attention to the numerous road signs from both directions that warn truckers they won't be able to pass. Some signs are as simple as "Smugglers Notch not recommended for trucks, buses or RVs." Others are more direct: "Tractor Trailers Prohibited" and blinking lighted signs on each approach that alternate between "No tractor trailers" and "Thru Notch."
"And so it boggles my mind because to a certain point, they (truckers) are totally ignoring the scenery around them and not even paying attention to the road signs that are out there," said William "Jake" Elovirta, director of enforcement for the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.
Starting July 1, truckers who get stuck in the notch will be subject to fines of up to $2,000 for a first offense. Until then, truckers are subject to a fine of $165 for ignoring the road signs.
The most recent stuck truck was June 1, the second time it's happened this year. Since 2009, when the state began tracking the number of trucks getting stuck, they've ranged from two a season to 10.
Glen Gibbons, the editor and publisher of the Oregon-based trade publication Inside GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), said there are examples across the country of motorists, both truckers and car drivers, over-relying on GPS.
"Generally speaking, common sense will serve, but sometimes people seem to jettison the common sense," Gibbons said.
Sean McNally, a spokesman for American Trucking Associations, a federation of trucker groups from across the country, said it's something the industry is aware of.
The industry favors the use of commercial GPS units that are specifically designed to accommodate local restrictions on truck traffic, such as low bridges or weight restrictions.
Most truckers who get stuck in Smugglers Notch are from out of state and are unfamiliar with the area and they're not paying attention to the signs.
"A lot of people are just paying attention to the GPS and basically kind of putting blinders on and not taking in their surroundings and paying attention," he said.