GPS maps blamed for truck crashes on steep grade in Arkansas

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Updated Jan 3, 2017

GPS maps are being blamed for big-rig accidents in Arkansas where unsuspecting truckers looking for a short-cut have been burning up their brakes on a steep descent into a popular tourist destination.

Twenty years ago, before GPS maps became so popular, the river-based tourist town of Ponca, Ark. had roughly six 18-wheelers passing through each year. Now there are upwards of six commercial trucks a day that make the drop from the Ozark Mountains into the small town that draws about 1.5 million tourists each year to the nearby Buffalo National River.

“Several of them go through here with their brakes smoking or on fire,” Austin Albers, general manager of the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca, told

Just north of Ponca on Arkansas 43, six tractor-trailers and a dump truck have crashed along a 2-mile section of the highway in the past 2 ½ years.

Four years ago, a trucker lost control of his rig and crashed through a lodge’s well house and shower building before ending up in the river. The trucker lost his life and diesel fuel was released into the water.

Unfortunately, GPS maps do not reveal the steep 1,300-foot drop from the intersection of State Roads 103 and 43. The hill eventually flattens out at Ponca. Along the steep grade are two large turns where trucks have crashed following brake failures.

A trucker that crashed recently while descending into Ponca had been hauling 40,000 pounds in juice beverages. He had taken the route using a GPS map to save time, according to his company, Hawkeye Transportation.

Jarred Morgan, chief deputy for the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, said GPS has been a problem for truckers traveling on unfamiliar steep grades.

“Nine out of 10 times when we have a truck get hung up on these roads they are following GPS,” Morgan told 

The state highway department plans on posting signs to warn truckers of the 3-mile section of the road which features a grade that varies from 6 to 12 percent.