Device could replace truck chains |

Device could replace truck chains

Edward Stoner
eagle county correspondent

VAIL ” Putting on chains can be an arduous task for truckers.

One trucker died of a heart attack while putting on chains Dec. 30 in Vail. Another was taken to the hospital this winter with signs of a heart attack.

“The chains are heavy,” said Tom Lee of Mile High Frozen Foods, whose trucks bring food to the mountains for McDonald’s and Starbucks, among other places. “It’s usually cold and snowing. Not only do you have to get them on, you have to make sure they’re tight as well.”

And putting on chains can be dangerous, too. In October, a trucker was run over and killed as he removed his chains along the interstate in East Vail.

That’s why truckers are excited about something called the Autosock. It’s just what it sounds like ” a sock for your tire. The fabric covering fits over a tire and provides traction in snowy and icy conditions.

“It’s a high-tech fabric,” said Chuck McGee, whose company distributes the Autosock. “It’s designed to be very durable, but it’s a patented fiber that creates a lot of adhesion to snow and ice.”

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Some people believe that Autosocks will increasingly be used in place of truck chains for winter driving because they’re easier and quicker to put on.

In tests, the Autosock performed as well as chains in icy and snowy conditions, said Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association. In some cases, it outperformed chains, he added.

“You don‚t think it would work, but it’s really cool,” Fulton said. “More than anything else, the most important reason for us is we think it enhances safety.”

The Autosock takes about five minutes to put on compared with as long as 30 to 45 minutes to install truck chains. That reduces the amount of time the truckers are exposed to danger from passing traffic, Fulton said.

The device is also less damaging to roads than chains, Fulton said. And chains can break and lie in the road, creating driving hazards, he said.

“You have tons of chains that are all over the highway because they break,” Fulton said.

During snowy weather, the Colorado Department of Transportation puts a chain law into effect for Vail Pass, mandating that trucks have chains to go over the steep, winding stretch of Interstate 70.

Trucks pull over at the chain-up area, a wide shoulder near Silverthorne. They sometimes can be double-parked in a line hundreds of yards down the shoulder as they install the chains.

The Department of Transportation recently tested the Autosock at Eisenhower Tunnel. Truckers hope that the department will allow the Autosock to be used when the chain law is in effect.

Nancy Shanks, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said the agency is developing criteria for the approval of alternatives to chains.

The wide shoulder for chaining up trucks in Vail is safe, said Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger. And many drivers don’t know the proper way to put on chains, he said.

Still, a device that’s easier to install would be good, he said.

“Sure, it’d be great to have something easier for them,” he said.