I-70 Traction Bill to return to Colorado legislature this session
February 10, 2016
On a busy winter weekend, Interstate 70 slows to a crawl, bogged down by heavy traffic and snow. While the mountain corridor has always posed a difficult puzzle for the state, this rings especially true when cars skate along icy roads.
With the upcoming legislative session set to begin in just over a week, Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat, and Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, are looking to reintroduce a bill from last year clarifying traction law for passenger vehicles.
"The bill was recommended by the Transportation Legislation Review Committee (TLRC) on November 2," Mitsch Bush wrote in an email. "It will be introduced in January."
Last session, the bill was shot down by a Colorado Senate amendment, introduced by Sen. Randy Baumgarder, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, that reduced it to a study. With TLRC's blessing, Mitsch Bush and Rankin are giving it another shot.
As Colorado law currently stands, commercial vehicles are required to have proper equipment in snowy or icy conditions along the corridor, while the requirement only applies to passenger vehicles after the Colorado Department of Transportation calls a Code 15, or "Traction Law." Under a Code 15, passenger vehicles must have either snow tires, tires with the mud/snow (M/S) designation, or a four-wheel drive vehicle. In addition, all tires must have a minimum one-eighth inch tread.
If conditions worsen, drivers may face a Code 16, requiring passenger vehicles to have chains, or another traction device. This passenger chain law is rarely instated, usually just prior to a highway closure.
While CDOT launched an education campaign surrounding tire tread and traction laws last year, Mitsch Bush argues that many drivers still don't understand it completely. In addition, a "Code 15" or "Code 16" may be called after unequipped vehicles have already spun out, causing delays.
Under Mitsch Bush's proposal, drivers would be required to have appropriate tires or traction devices during snowy or icy conditions between I-70 mile markers 133 and 259, instead of just under a Code 15.
The bill points to commercial drivers as an example, when in 2009, a similar bill was passed to clarify chain law for the trucking industry. Prior to the 2009 bill, truckers were only required to have traction equipment when a CDOT code was in effect.
"Trucks without proper equipment cause closure before CDOT and CSP could get a code 16 into effect," the bill notes.
According to CDOT data, traction closures have become the burden of passenger vehicles, with the majority of closures last winter stemming from cars with inadequate equipment. In addition, for every one minute of delay, it takes an additional six minutes to clear the traffic behind that vehicle, multiplying the lost time from an accident.
Under current law, if a passenger vehicle causes a road closure from spinning out or crashing, and is found without the required traction equipment during a Code 15, the driver may be fined up to $650.
However, Colorado State Patrol will not pull over vehicles solely to check their tires.
"There is already misinformation circulating, so I have an amendment to quell one rumor," Mitsch Bush said.
The amendment, added to the bill on Dec. 28, explicitly states that the bill may not be used to create tire checkpoints, to stop and check each car for traction equipment.
Back when the bill was introduced in 2015, a rumor circulated that the bill would create these inspection checkpoints, despite their impracticality.
"I know you can understand how difficult it would be to stop every single vehicle. It would cause a traffic nightmare," Colorado State Patrol trooper Alisha Danko said. "It's nothing we can do on a preventative measure where we can stop people prior to an accident happening; it's more reactive."
If a trooper did respond to a crash, they might issue a ticket for defective tires or careless driving, depending on the nature of the crash.
"When you have slick tires that have not been replaced when they should have, that's when we have problems," Danko said. "It's more best practice for users…" she added, noting that drivers should check tire pressure, tire tread and ensure they have the right equipment.
Chains or an AutoSock are options for drivers who don't mind taking it slow. A new set of snow tires is not cheap, but CDOT is offering discounts through Big O Tires and Meadow Creek Discount Tires in Frisco during the winter.
Big O Tires will offer up to 10 percent off a set of four snow tires — up to $100 — through March 1. Meadow Creek will offer 10 percent off a set of four tires through April 1. More information is available at https://www.codot.gov/travel/winter-driving/tires.
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