With winter approaching, here’s what Colorado’s traction law says (and means)
November 14, 2017
This time of year, winter weather is always just a moment away on Interstate 70 through Colorado's high country.
If you haven't already, make sure your vehicle is properly equipped for winter road conditions. In addition, make sure you understand current statutes regarding tire traction. These statutes are often referred to as "chain laws." Chain law codes can be confusing for both passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles. Until recently, chain law codes were predominantly enforced on commercial vehicles, but passenger vehicles are now subject to enforcement action.
Colorado Revised Statutes state the following with regard to passenger vehicles:
• C.R.S. 42-4-106 (5) (a) (I): The department of transportation shall also have the authority to close any portion of a state highway to public travel or to prohibit the use thereof unless motor vehicles using the same are equipped with tire chains, four-wheel drive with adequate tires for the existing conditions, or snow tires with a "mud and snow" or all-weather rating from the manufacturer.
Violation of this statue is a Class B Traffic Infraction and punishable with a $133 fine. If the violation results in the closure of a travel lane, the fine increases to $657.
So how do you know if these laws are in effect on Vail Pass or the Eisenhower Tunnel?
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CDOT will display this information on electronic variable message boards along Interstate 70. During Traction Law (Code 15), passenger vehicles must be equipped with four-wheel drive/all-wheel drive, snow tires, or chains. During Passenger Vehicle Chain Law (Code 16), all passenger vehicles, regardless of drive train design or tires, must be equipped with chains. Although Code 16 is rarely implemented, motorists should be prepared.
Having worked treacherous portions of I-70 the last seven years, I've put together a "winter survival bag" for both my patrol car and my personal vehicle. In addition to tire chains, consider keeping the following items in a plastic tote or duffel bag:
• Wool military surplus blanket. Wool retains warmth even when wet. Use it as a poncho or ground cover when changing a tire. Heavy duty, reflective tarps are also useful.
• LED headlamp. Flashlights are great, but their metal housings drain battery life quickly during cold weather. They are also difficult to hold during low temperatures. Consider wrapping the exterior of your flashlight in duct tape.
• Spare gloves, knit cap and compressible jacket. What started as a 60-degree sunny day in Glenwood Springs just turned into a 28-degree white-out blizzard on Vail Pass.
• Jumper cables. Car batteries do strange things in subzero temperatures.
• Snow shovel. Backcountry aluminum ski shovels work great. You can find cheaper plastic versions at the auto parts store.
• Phone charger cable and auxiliary power bank. You can't dial 911 if your phone is dead.
• Snacks and water. I like fig bars. They tend to stay chewable in cold weather, as opposed to trail bars and energy bars. Don't crack a tooth during the blizzard.
• Hand warmer packs. Stuff them in your pockets to keep dexterity in your hands and fingers.
Give yourself plenty of time to get your destination, and plenty of space between your car and the car in front of you. If road conditions become treacherous to the point of exceeding your vehicle's capability or your driving experience, pull off at the next safe exit.
Never operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Ask yourself: "Is it worth the loss of a life?"
Trooper Kefren Tester is a seven-year veteran assigned to the Colorado State Patrol's Vehicular Crimes Unit in Glenwood Springs. The Vehicular Crimes Unit is responsible for investigating fatal and felony crashes throughout the state.
Sources: Colorado Peace Officer's Handbook; http://www.cdot.gov