Every year, a handful of big rigs gets stuck trying to navigate the Notch Road portion of VT 108. The so-called “stuckages” cause long shutdowns of the winding mountain pass, frustrating law enforcement as well as the drivers, who can be fined thousands of dollars for ignoring road signs that prohibit oversized vehicles.

“It’s not really a safety issue, but it’s a big aggravation issue and it’s a big frustration issue for the communities going both ways,” said Todd Sears, Deputy Director of Operations and Safety at VTrans.

A bill introduced in February takes aim at what some drivers and lawmakers say is the real culprit: GPS systems.

Sen. Thomas Chittenden, (D) Chittenden-Southeast District, and chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation, drafted the bill, S.77, last fall. The legislation proposes to extend civil penalties to GPS navigation providers that direct tractor trailers and other big trucks through the Notch.

“My general intent with this bill was to put it on the table to draw attention to other ways that we can impress upon drivers the difficulty of traversing that stretch,” Chittenden said.

Chittenden said many big rig drivers don’t use navigation systems specifically designed for large vehicles. Another issue is that many stuckages are out-of-state drivers, including those for whom English is a second language.

“GPS is an issue because what we’re finding is a lot of the truckers that are navigating through, they’re just using the standard off-the-shelf Apple maps and Google maps that we all have on our smartphones,” says Sears.

Chittenden wants GPS apps to warn drivers that the road is closed to certain vehicles. He said VTrans has been in touch with Google, which owns the GPS mobile app Waze.

“Phones are language intelligent,” notes Chittenden. “Our signs are in English, there’s some in French, but they’re predominantly in English.”

Meanwhile, VTrans is surveying the impact of stuckages. Officials estimate that shutting down the Notch for three hours costs about $20,000, including law enforcement, tow trucks and redirecting other vehicles.

Stuckages are down 40% in the last two years, according to VTrans. Five rigs got stuck in both 2021 and 2022, compared to an average of 12 in the years prior.

“We don’t think that there’s any one magic bullet solution for this,” says Sears. “It’s a bunch of little initiatives that we can conduct to lower the number incrementally.”