After various spin-out accidents and lane blockages on I-70 last winter, the Colorado legislature decided it was time to update the state’s traction law to help prevent future incidents.
What was once solely limited to commercial vehicles will now apply to all drivers on the 126-mile stretch of I-70 between the foothills outside of Denver and Colorado’s Western Slope. Under House Bill 1207, which Gov. Jared Polis signed last May, vehicles must have four-wheel or all-wheel drive, winter tires, or traction devices, like snow chains, between the months of September and June to prepare for winter conditions. The updated law also changed the minimum tire tread required for all winter tires from 2/16 to 3/16 of an inch deep for better traction, which you can measure at any local tire shop. In the future, the state hopes to permanently install a more convenient measuring tool near I-70, called WheelRight technology, which measures a vehicle’s weight, tire pressure, and tread depth digitally when you drive over it.
“Most of the crashes and backups that we saw a few weeks ago when we had our first winter storm in October were vehicles that did not have appropriate tires,” says Andrew Hogle, a public information officer for Colorado’s Department of Transportation (CDOT). “They went up in their summer tires, and that’s the problem. It’s not necessarily everyone with out-of-state plates, and it’s not necessarily the type of car you’re driving. It’s the type of tires that make the most difference.”
While it’s CDOT’s job to inform and educate the community about the updated mandate, Colorado State Patrol is in charge of enforcing it. For the first winter season, though, State Patrol will not be actively enforcing the law with checkpoints or random stops like they will in the future. But, if you are not following the mandate and get pulled over for any other reason, such as speeding or reckless driving, you run the risk of receiving the $132 fine for violating it, and even worse, if you are in a crash or otherwise block a lane for any period of time, that fine jumps to $656, which is almost as much as you would spend on winter tires.
“Planning ahead for next year, I would expect the State Patrol will be more aggressive in its enforcement as we go further into the seasons,” Hogle says. “So, if you need to purchase snow tires, sooner rather than later is probably the best move.”
The state understands that it’s not economically feasible for everyone to purchase a new set of winter tires though, so Hogle says a cheaper solution is to buy snow chains, cables or AutoSocks for your tires, which range from about $50 to $100 a pair.
While some I-70 commuters might find the new laws inconvenient, the good news about this updated legislation is that it should help reduce traffic in the mountains and allow you to spend more time on your skis than in the car. If everyone prepares their vehicles for icy roads, there won’t be as many single-car spin outs or crashes that affect hundreds of drivers behind them.
“You can’t necessarily prevent all crashes, but you can account for making sure your vehicle is ready for winter conditions,” Hogle says. “So, if we can minimize those kinds of unnecessary delays, I think we’ll see travel time speed up quite significantly over the season, at least that’s our hope.”