Truckers Trying to Navigate the Notch Could Lead to a Fine Mess

Truck tires damaged while attempting to cross over Smugglers' Notch in Vermont
This truck sustained extensive tire damage while attempting to cross Smugglers' Notch. (Christopher Lynch/Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles/Valley News)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

Vermont transportation officials have a message for truckers seeking to follow their GPS up state Route 108 through Smugglers’ Notch and over Mount Mansfield: You’ll get stuck and fined up to $4,000.

VT 108 is a winding north-south route, connecting Stowe Village to a mountain resort popular for skiing, that continues to the border with Canada. Some 8,000 vehicles per day travel along it.

“It’s a road of staggering beauty, but Route 108 zigzags through, up and over the peak, and it has rock outcroppings on either side. The angle of the road is such as that tractor-trailers can’t make it through. They get stuck,” said Todd Sears, deputy bureau chief of operations and safety at Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Despite plentiful signs warning of hefty fines, with vegetation trimmed to ensure visibility, and some that say, “Please do not trust your GPS,” Sears said truckers still “make the decision to try to navigate the Notch.”

Truck stuck in Smugglers' Notch in Vermont

Trucks attempting to cross over Smugglers' Notch often don't reach their destination. (WCAX and Dave St. Pierre) 

Since 2009, VTrans has been tracking the problem, counting the number of stuck trucks (averaging five per year but totaling as high as 12 annually), honing sign placements and perfecting readability at Smugglers’ Notch.

Officials have even refined state legislation specifically for the troublesome section that prohibits vehicles more than 40 feet long or combination vehicles (with trailers) longer than 45 feet from operating in the Smuggler’s Notch segment of Route 108. Fines begin at $1,000 and can increase to over $4,000 for a second offense.

What's In a Name?

Smugglers’ Notch earned its name due to an 1807 embargo issued by President Thomas Jefferson to prevent trading between Vermonters and Canada/Britain that was ignored to continue trade and commerce.

Truckers can face additional fines for not obeying traffic signs, with combined penalties approaching $4,500 if court costs are included, Sears said, adding that the operating licenses of the most violators come from Florida, Massachusetts and Canada.

“It looks like a shortcut and looks like a bit of a shorter route by going over and through the Notch compared to staying on the main road VT 100 to VT 15, but tractor-trailers get stuck. We don’t want them to do that,” Sears said.

He thinks the GPS systems on cellphones are to blame for truckers getting caught in the curvy road as they try to take a seven-minute faster route connection by going over the mountain.

Todd Spears


“GPS is a big issue. There are some navigation services specifically designed for truckers to use in route planning. We have had good success in influencing those navigation systems specifically designed for freight haulers to black out the Notch and not even make it an option in route planning, but only when using that software package,” Sears explained. “The problem is, most drivers don’t use those. They just use their phone, which is Apple maps or Google maps, and those service a huge number of people who have nothing to do with trucks. So it is much more difficult to influence those companies so we are continuing to work on that.”

Truckers are split 50-50 in getting stuck in both directions trying to drive over Smugglers’ Notch. Most get caught in the rocks, but some “will go over the edge of the road so they are tipped on wheels,” he added.

What is the outlook for trucking in 2023? How will the industry change with the current government, economic and business trends? Join host Michael Freeze and TT reporters Eugene Mulero and Connor Wolf. Hear the program above and at

“Do not take 108 to go up and through to go to the other side. What I want to be clear is that truckers can get up to resort areas and hotels to deliver their goods. Then, they need to turn around and come back. That’s fine and no problem. It’s the Notch specifically, we’re only talking about a half-mile-long going up and over Mount Mansfield,” Sears said.

When the two-lane road is blocked, it becomes impassable for vehicles and local traffic. According to VTrans, it takes about three hours to extricate a tractor-trailer and ratchets up $6,000 in lost opportunity costs per hour.

VTrans officials are exploring using permanent countermeasures with infrastructure such as roundabout configurations and chicanes to mimic angles to divert vehicles unable to pass those from traveling farther up the road and getting stuck.

Last summer, law enforcement patrolled both sides of the Notch to educate truckers on the preferred path being VT 100 to VT 15 (or VT 15 to VT 100 if traveling in the other direction) rather than issue citations, Sears said. “We want to increase awareness to the trucking community.”

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: