September 29, 2016
I'm preparing for winter, but I don't get the I-70 traction or chain laws. Can you explain?
Well Keith, you're preparing — that puts you ahead of most of the crazies that will be heading up I-70 this winter, so thanks for the question. While it seems like people should know not to go 80 on 70 in a bald-tired Geo Storm during a blizzard, rollover after rollover proves that sense really is a finite resource, only improved through legal requirement. It's the same reason coffee cups read, "Caution! Contents might be hot," and schools can't, or don't, sell soda.
This particular example of Johnny Law turned Mother Dearest tries to urge winter driving preparation. When the I-70 Traction Law first went through the state Legislature it lost its teeth, becoming a study of people's sense and sensibility instead of a legal requirement.
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As it turns out, stupidity may well be the greatest threat to man's health; far greater than any mosquito-born illness or natural disaster — though there's a case to be made for how all of these can go hand in hand.
In its current iteration, the Traction Law goes into effect when road conditions require it. To figure out if the Traction Law is in effect, first look out your window. Can you see the mountains? If not, there may be traction requirements. Check the Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) website, or you can sign up for GovDelivery notifications to get notices sent to you by email or text. If you are already on the road when the storm hits, pay attention to the road signs to make sure you make the grade. To get a passing grade if the Traction Law is on, passenger vehicles need to have either snow tires, tires with the mud/snow (M+S) designation, or a four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicle. Now that doesn't mean you can grab a set of snow tires out of the junkyard and be ready to roll. Any shoe you slap on your whip — that's what the kids or saying these days, right? — needs to have tread at least one-eighth inch deep. If you're not sure if your tread runs deep enough, grab a quarter, flip old Georgie boy on his wig, and see if you can see his hairline when you stick him in the groove of your tread. If Washington's melon is fully visible, your tread can warrant a fine, but if "liberty" — or "states" from United States depending on the quarter — and the top of Washington's head are masked by rubber, you are good to go for a drive. If you are a fan of extra credit, you can use chains or an autosock when the Traction Law is in effect, but note that is not yet required.
However, if Ullr really decides to set up shop in the High Country and CDOT declares a Code 16, chains are required. A Code 16 means the Chain Law is in effect for all vehicles. Basically, if you are on the road at that point, you're going to need a little help. Put on the chains, slow things down and hope you make it home before the highway closes because that is the next step after the Chain Law takes hold.
If you fancy yourself a rule breaker, know that your wallet will pay the price for your stubbornness — in the best-case scenario. If you drive without the proper gear you can be fined upwards of $130. If your lack of preparation causes you to block the road and get emergency crews out to help get your trunk out of the way, the fine goes up to $650.
Old Quandary has heard stories for days. I know, when you were a youngster your daddy drove up here when I-70 was still just a dirt road, and he didn't need an autosock. Well, good for him, but the road has changed since the good old days and so has the number of people who use it.
In 2014, I-70 saw one of its worst delays on record when 22 vehicles spun out. Of the 22 motorists, 19 didn't have adequate tires or traction.
When a crash does occur, even if it only takes a few minutes to move out of the way, it can delay traffic for hours — on average a crash that takes 10 minutes to clear will slow the highway down for an hour. If you think your all-season tires are good enough, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but they will not cut the mustard unless they have that mud/snow designation. Regular all-season tires take 668 feet to stop in snowy weather, whereas winter tires only require 310 feet to stop under the same conditions.
Basically, when the snow starts flying this season — the stuff that actually sticks — grab a quarter, socks for your car and pray everyone else is taking the same precautions.