Friday, September 16, 2016

Bus gets stuck on Smugglers’ Notch, but there’s a twist

#SMH ... It’s the only acceptable reaction to the latest news coming out of Smugglers’ Notch, the winding section of Vermont Route 108 where large vehicles find themselves getting stuck. I wrote about this road here and here, and due to continued incidents, have been reduced to tweeting about it to save time.

Welp, it happened again. Another large vehicle got stuck at Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont. However, this time it was a bus.

Yup, a motorcoach found itself wedged at the sharp turn at Smugglers’ Notch, which has caused headaches for city and state officials. Before listen to this: The bus will not be fined.

According to Vermont state law, “Commercial vehicles are prohibited from operating on the Smugglers’ Notch segment of Vermont Route 108.” The catch? “As used in this subsection, ‘commercial vehicle’ means truck-tractor-semitrailer combinations and truck-tractor-trailer combinations.”

That’s right. The law does not apply to motorcoaches or any other vehicle type similar in length. Only trucks.
Considering motorcoaches are also regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, it would seem not only fair but also logical to hold buses to the same laws and standards as tractor-trailers. Another logical point: The only reason trucks get stuck at Smugglers’ Notch more than buses is because there are far more trucks than buses. It has nothing to do with bus drivers being more mindful than truckers. It’s a numbers game.

Laws prohibiting trucks on roads because of issues of size should also apply to buses and other vehicles. The law should read “Vehicles in excess of ‘xx’ feet are prohibited.”

I spoke with Col. Jake Elovirta with the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles to get their side of the story. To be fair, there is signage that recommends buses or RVs not use the road. Not illegal, just not recommended. Col. Elovirta also pointed out that tractor-trailers differ from “straight” vehicles regarding maneuverability. The motorcoach at Smugglers’ Notch lost traction, causing it to be configured in a compromising position.

The $64,000 question: Was length a factor in the bus incident? The answer: ¯\_()_/¯

Col. Elovirta could not comment on the root cause of the incident since his department was not the responders. He referred me to the Vermont State Police who responded to the incident and briefed the state DMV. They could not immediately be reached for comment.

With that said, Col. Elovirta acknowledged that it wouldn’t be out of line to redefine “commercial vehicles” in a broader sense more consistent with FMCSA standards, but emphasized that since 2009, all 41 vehicles stuck at The Notch were trucks.

Check back periodically for an update from the Vermont State Police.