Winter driving season is near — are you ready for it? | AspenTimes.com

Winter driving season is near — are you ready for it?

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily

On Tuesday, April 5, 2016, a series of accidents involving 30 vehicles closed down Interstate 70 between Silverthorne and the Eisenhower Tunnels. State officials are working on ways to educate drivers about winter driving, and the need for proper tires.

EAGLE COUNTY — We need a lot of snow this winter, so we should all hope the message signs along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor frequently flash notifications about the state's traction laws.

As a reminder, when those notifications are posted, passenger cars need to have either adequate snow tires, chains or traction devices such as Auto Socks.

All-wheel or four-wheel-drive vehicles are fine to use regular tires.

But there's a stage beyond the traction law notices. Stacia Sellers of the Colorado Department of Transportation said if conditions are bad enough to impose the chain law for passenger vehicles, then those vehicles need chains or Auto Socks.

But, Sellers said, if conditions are bad enough to impose the chain law for passenger vehicles, the highway is likely to close soon. In those cases, it's probably best to pull over and wait.

The 'perfect storm'

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Keeping traffic moving on the I-70 corridor has drawn steady focus from state transportation officials since a "perfect storm" in February 2013.

That Sunday afternoon storm, which combined massive snowfall with heavy going-home traffic, caused any number of 10-hour trips from Vail to Denver.

Since then, state officials have worked with tools they have to help keep the highway moving.

But a law requiring passenger vehicles to drive the corridor with adequate tires never made it to the floor of the Colorado Senate for a vote in three attempts.

That means the regulations in place are the ones officials have to use, and one snowy day may see the traction laws imposed and lifted several times.

CDOT also has implemented a number of strategies to keep traffic moving. There's a mountain corridor manager and, thanks to traffic cameras along the corridor, people working in the Hanging Lake and Eisenhower/Johnson tunnels are able to quickly dispatch help to trouble spots.

Plow crews also use technology to determine road temperatures and snowfall rates, giving still more information to corridor managers.

Transportation officials also have started "safety closures" on Vail Pass and the tunnel approaches, giving crews time to work without having to dodge traffic.

Are you ready?

Ultimately, though, drivers need to have adequate equipment, and that starts with tires. A report following the 2013 perfect storm indicated that a substantial number of cars that went off the road didn't have adequate tires.

This year, the Colorado State Patrol has launched Operation Tread Safe, a program that focuses on educating the public about having adequate tires and an understanding of winter driving.

Beyond tires, tips include:

• Leaving extra room between vehicles.

• Not driving faster than visibility allows.

• Giving snowplows plenty of room.

• Being sure to check sites including CoTrip.org or Goi70.com for travel forecasts and traffic updates.

• Not leaving your car if you're stuck.

• Preparing a winter-driving kit to leave in your vehicle.

The winter tips also include information about possible fines for closing the interstate. If your vehicle doesn't have proper tires and you end up closing the highway, the fine can be $650. A normal fine for inadequate tires is $130.

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jake Best said officers don't stop cars for tire inspections. That means tickets are usually issued after an incident.

"Drivers need to be prepared before (a) storm," Best said. "We would rather keep the road open" than issue citations, he added. But cars off the road put people's lives at risk, from motorists to officers to plow drivers.

To avoid that, "we want to get people as proactive as they can be," Best said.

Four facts

• If the “traction law” is in effect, you need either snow tires, chains, all-wheel drive or some combination.

• If the passenger vehicle chain law is in effect, you need chains — or just need to stay put for a while.

• Stick a quarter into your tires with George Washington’s head pointed down. The tread at various points on the tire needs to cover at least part of Washington’s head.

• To learn more, go to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s website.

Source: Colorado Department of Transportation

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