After a quiet July, incidents in August and September have brought the official number of vehicles stuck in Smugglers Notch this season to six.
This count is just one tractor trailer wedged between the road’s boulders away from reaching the total number the Vermont Agency of Transportation recorded in 2019 and 2020 and two away from the total number recorded in 2016 and 2017.
Since 2009, an average of 8.4 trucks got stuck in the Notch per year. About 2,000 vehicles pass through the area each day while it’s open, according to the agency.
A common theme among stuck drivers has been an unwillingness to read the large flashing signs the agency has placed along the road as well as a general unfamiliarity with the area.
Along with a South Carolina driver who blocked the Notch in August, a Quebecois truck driver, Jean Daigneault, 51, from Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, also caused a hold up. Daigneault closed the road for three hours and was fined $2,347.
Both Mykola V. Onuykevych, the South Carolinian driver, and Daigneault admitted to seeing, reading and failing to follow the warnings presented by the copious signage — despite warnings in English and French — placed on the road leading to Smugglers Notch on either side of the Route 108 highway.
Truck drivers are often but not always the ones getting stuck. Onuykevych, for example, was driving a pickup hauling a tractor trailer. Last Friday, a recreational vehicle, not a tractor trailer, found itself wedged between the boulders.
Transportation officials are currently conducting a study searching for solutions to the yearly problem of vehicles getting wedged between the Notch’s boulders.
Though the agency has pointed to its numerous signs telling tractor trailer drivers to stay out and ignore their GPS, many of the incidents recorded by Vermont State Police this year have revealed how drivers who end up getting stuck will often read and then ignore that advice.
“We have contacted GPS companies to try and fix the problem of routing trucks through the Notch,” said Amy Tatko, the agency’s public outreach manager. “This effort has helped by ensuring that drivers using GPS software specific to trucks will not be routed that way. It has not, however, fixed the problem of drivers using off-the-shelf GPS that is not intended for truckers. We are still seeking a solution to that.”
A possible undercount
According to official Agency of Transportation data provided to the Stowe Reporter and News & Citizen earlier this year, the years 2013, 2014 and 2017 all saw the highest number of incidents involving vehicles stuck in Smugglers Notch: 12 during each of those years.
A recent incident shows how the agency may be withholding incidents where vehicles impede traffic in the Notch, but don’t technically become stuck.
On Monday, Sept. 13, the Notch was briefly blocked by a truck driver who called for help before getting fully stuck.
While traffic waited on either side, a Stowe police officer helped Yohan Sandor Lopez Diaz, 41, of Hialeh, Fla., painstakingly back his tractor trailer down a steep curve to the point where a single lane of traffic could begin to flow.
Diaz reportedly saw the signs warning him to stay out of the Notch but did not know how to reach his destination otherwise.
Because Diaz did not become fully stuck in the Notch, the transportation agency didn’t count this event toward the official total number this year.
The agency’s official numbers from the past decade also differ and may be slightly lower than totals received from Vermont State Police and published by the Stowe Reporter.
“The best explanation for a discrepancy in the numbers reported by (Vermont Agency of Transportation) and (Vermont State Police) is reporting requirements and the question of what constitutes a stuck truck,” Tatko said. “Historically, if a truck didn’t impede traffic/close the road, the agency may not have known about it and therefore wouldn’t report it, whereas state police may have responded to assist anyway.”
And, then on Tuesday morning, Sept. 21, another big rig tried to make it through the narrow mountain pass but didn’t attempt to navigate the hairpin turn at the top and backed down the winding road, directed by police.
Who knows if it counted?