Chain Law Update

Winter driving can be a challenge to even the most experienced drivers and the most sure-footed rigs. So you've stashed some winter duds in your sleeper and you're ready to hang iron. Are you up to speed on your chain laws?

Here's a review of current chain laws and where to find road and weather information.


Anne Richards, information officer for the California Highway Patrol (CHP) says there is no chain possession law in California, but truckers "better not get caught without them" if the weather deteriorates. The CHP will turn them back or make them wait out the storm. She wasn't aware of any fines for not having chains, but advises that Department of Transportation (CDOT) reserves the right to prohibit any vehicle from entering a chain control area when it is determined the vehicle will experience difficulty in safely traveling through the area.

Note: On any semi-trailer only one set of chains is required regardless of number of axles. Chains on trailers may be staggered front and back. Chains are not required on tag axle. Some dual trailer configurations may be restricted from moving into a snow area when chains are required.

Richards also said California where does not have any specific areas set aside to chain up, drivers are to use the roadside. For road conditions inside the state call (800)427-ROAD; outside the state call(916) 445-7623.


Colorado's chain laws apply to every state highway, federal highway and interstate. The DOT says when the law is in effect, signs will be place along roadways indicating which vehicles must chain up. Truckers can remove chains where bare pavement is encountered on a descending grade. Commercial vehicles (those having a gross weight of 26,001 lbs. or more inclusive of a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 lbs.) must chain four wheels. Dual tire chains are an acceptable choice, but tire cables are not allowed. No chains are required on trailers, but this year Colorado will be monitoring the effectiveness of tire cables on trailer tires. Auto transporters must comply to the full extent of the chain laws.

Colorado has two levels of law for commercial vehicles. Level one requires the use of snow tires or traction devices such as chains or cable chains on all single axle combination commercial vehicles. When level two is in effect, chains are required for all commercial vehicles. Level two may be implemented at any time snow covers the entire surface of the roadway. A "Code 18" indicates the most severe weather conditions and failure to chain up could net you a fine of up to $560 if the semi blocks traffic.

Call ahead for road conditions and places to chain up at: (303) 639-1111. Here is a list of I-70 designated chain-up areas.


MM 178 - Vail golf course; MM 182.6 Vail; MM 183.8 - Vail; MM 186.2 - Vail; MM 203 - Frisco Scenic Overlook; MM 205.5 - Silverthorn; MM 210.8 (three miles below the Eisenhower tunnel).


MM 228 - Georgetown; MM 221 - Bakerville; MM 218.5 - Herman Gulch interchange;

MM 195 - Copper Mountain Overlook.


Michigan has no chain law requirement. In fact, it's illegal for big rigs to use chains in Michigan. According to MDOT, trucks with chains do too much damage to Michigan roads. Michigan has a number of service centers that update winter road conditions by phone. The main number for these is (517) 373-1620. Road info is also available through AAA. Their number is (800) 411-4823.


Minnesota has no law on the books requiring commercial vehicles to carry chains. The Office of Motor Carrier Services has the authority to close roads in severe weather and anyone who chooses to go around barriers can be cited with a misdemeanor violation. Their online site is www.dot.state.mn.us for road and traveler info. The phone number to call for road conditions is (800) 542-0220.


While Montana has no actual chain law for big rigs, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice (MHP) said the state is subject to sudden storms during most of the year so it's truckers beware. Truckers will never get a ticket for not carrying chains, but if they proceed into a posted area and cause a road block or accident, the MHP will hit them with a hefty fine. When signs are posted, Montana's rules call for one chain to cover one tire on one side of the drive axle. Our advice: Call ahead for road conditions at (800) 226-ROAD inside or outside the state or (406) 444-6339 local. The web site carries up-to-date photos of different travel conditions throughout the state atwww.mdt.state.mt.us.


Nevada requires you to carry chains for at least two wheels of a drive axle and two braking wheels of a trailer. Where to call: (775) 793-1313 for information on all northern Nevada roads and I-80 over Donner Summit. From California only, call (800) 427-7623. Nevada's web site is www.nevadadot.com.

Tune in to radio station 530AM in the Reno area and 1610AM in the Carson City area.

The Nevada DOT recommends carrying a flashlight, shovel, gloves and extra food especially if you travel U.S. 93 out of Vegas. It also suggests truckers check out those chains prior to use, reminding you that chains that don't fit won't get you out of a mess when you need them.


Oregon's chain law is specific and applies to all highways throughout the state. The law states that in addition to chaining the drive-axle, tractors with one trailer must have chains on four tires of the primary drive axle, and if pulling two trailers, chains must be on four tires of the primary drive axle. When equipped with a secondary drive axle, chain two tires of the secondary drive axle.

Drivers who disregard the snow signs can expect to pay a class C traffic infraction. The DOT won't fine, but the Oregon state police will and so will the scalemasters. Questions about chain laws and current regulations can be directed to the following: Oregon DOT (Ashland, OR) (541) 482-4344 or the Salem office at (503) 986-3005. For travel information call inside Oregon at (800) 977-6368 or outside the state at (503) 588-2941.


Utah has no specific law stating CMVs must carry chains, but the office of the Utah Highway Patrol would like to see truckers carry chains between Nov. 1 and Mar. 31. Chris Repp of the UHP said, "When the Department of Transportation posts snow condition signs the chain laws go into effect. Semis are required to have one set for the drive axle, but none are required for the trailer." One chain-up area for I-80 is at Parley's Canyon, milepost 133. There may additional areas designated, so UDOT suggests truckers dial (801) 964-6000 from within the Salt Lake area. From outside the Salt Lake metropolitan area, call (800) 492-2400 for traveler information.


The Washington chain laws are specific and complicated. The numbers of chains truckers are required to carry depend on the number of drive axles. WADOT suggests giving Motor Carrier Services a call at (800) 562-6902 if you're confused about their chain-up requirements. CMV's must carry chains from Nov. 1 to April 1 on certain routes. These are: I-90 between North Bend (MP 32) and Ellensburg (MP 101), SR-97 between (MP 145) and Junction SR-2, SR-2 between Dryden (MP 108) and Index (MP 36), SR-12 between Packwood (MP 135) and Naches (MP 187), SR-97 between the junction of SR-14 (MP 4) Columbia River and Toppenish (MP 59), Sr-20 between Tonasket (MP 262) and Kettle Falls (MP 342), SR-155 between Omak (MP 79) and Nespelem (MP 45), SR-970 between (MP 0) and (MP 10).

The number to call for pass reports is (800) 695-7623. Highway Advisory Radio pass reports are available on Snoqualmie Pass (I-90) at 1610 AM and on Stevens Pass at 530 AM.


Wyoming's vague law states that all vehicles likely to encounter slippery conditions may be required to be equipped with chains or adequate snow tires. The Wyoming highway patrol posts signs to this effect. Call toll-free for road conditions within Wyoming at: (888) 996-7623; outside Wyoming call (307) 772-0824 or visit their interactive web site at http://wydotweb.state.wy.us/ and click on the area of the state you are traveling into. The local radio broadcasts are very informative, especially KUWR-FM 89.9 out of Laramie.

Did you know...?

The DOT is most states provides hotlines and weather information sites on their Internet sites.  One useful site iswww.dot.gov/internet/usadots.html.  This site will send you directly to information for every state.  Then click on road and weather conditions.   

Other state road and weather info

Arizona: Arizona cites Part 393 of the Federal Regs: "Tire chains of reasonable size may be used when snow, ice or other conditions causing skidding exist."

Idaho has no specific chain laws, but state-wide road conditions are available from the Idaho Motor Carrier Department at (208) 336-6600 or (888) 432-7623.

Iowa has no chain law according to the Iowa Highway Patrol. They suggest watching the Iowa winter road conditions map online. The map is updated up to seven times a day when conditions warrant. Log on to www.earthsat.com/iowa/winter.html or call (800) 925-6469, or (515) 237-3247 if inside the state.

North Dakota has no chain law on the books, but the ND State Patrol advises truckers to have patience when the barriers are up during heavy drift conditions. (If you go around you'll be fined.) ND's website link for weather information is updated hourly. Log on at www.state.nd.us/dot/road.html . Call for road and weather information at (701) 328-7623.

Wisconsin has no chain requirement, but WISDOT says they do allow CMVs to use them in slippery conditions. WI offers a road condition report at (800) 762-3947. Or call the DOT at (608) 366-3212.

-Donna Carlson, staff writer