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Chain law particulars

Editor’s note: OOIDA member Neil W. DeChambeau is a line haul driver for FedEx Ground living in Reno, NV, and spent all of last winter driving between Reno and Sacramento over Donner Pass. After reading LL’s chain law update in the October issue, he submitted a detailed advisory worth sharing. Anyone reading this should be ready for western weather woes.

The chain laws in California are fairly simple. If you have a two-axle tractor, all four drive tires must be chained. If you have a three-axle tractor, six of the eight tires must be chained with four tires on one axle chained and two on the other axle. If it is a tag axle, all four tires on the drive must be chained and no chains are required on the tag. The same requirements are for straight trucks. Trailers also must have drag chains. A tandem-axle trailer must have chains on one tire on each side of the same axle. The California Highway Patrol doesn’t care which axle, they prefer the rear, but some equipment makes this difficult so the other axle is acceptable. A single-axle trailer must have a chain on each side of the axle. A set of doubles must have drag chains on the axle of the front trailer, and the rear trailer must have a tire chained on each side of the trailer. This chain may be staggered with one side on the front axle and the other on the rear or they may both be on the rear axle. A converter dolly without a trailer attached does not need to be chained.

The above requirements are valid throughout the state. The chains may be either steel link, cable or automatic traction device chains. Donner Pass has a special requirement in that they may specify minimum or maximum chains. The only difference is for a three-axle tractor pulling a single semi-trailer. The maximum chain requirements are those stated above. If the minimum law is in effect, the tractor need have only one pair of single chains on the tires of one axle. The use of automatic traction device chains on the inside wheels will satisfy this requirement. However, the drive chains for minimum conditions must be steel link. If you use cable chains for the drive tires, you must always chain to the maximum. If you are pulling two trailers or using a two-axle tractor, the maximum chain law applies.

On Donner Pass, CalTrans establishes chain control checkpoints when chain requirements are in effect or the weather makes them likely. The eastbound trucks are screened at Applegate, five miles east of Auburn. If you are not carrying chains, you will not be allowed to pass. The westbound trucks are screened at Mogul in Nevada, three miles west of Reno. Again, you must have chains to be allowed to pass. If you say you have chains and it is later found that you lied, the fines are substantial. At the chain control checkpoints, you will be issued a small card showing a diagram of the more common chain requirements. If you reach the chain-up area and do not have chains, you will be turned around and sent back down the hill. At the end of the chain-up area, you will be required to pass through a checkpoint and your chain installation job will be inspected to see if it meets the requirements. If it does not, you will be turned around and told what corrections need to be made before you can pass.

To my knowledge, Donner Pass is the only place where the minimum/maximum law is used. On any of the other passes, the maximum rule is used. Trucks on Cajon pass on Interstate 15 and Tejon Pass (the Grapevine on I-5) seldom require chain use. There is so much car traffic and the Southern California drivers are so inexperienced with snow that these highways usually close due to accidents before chains become mandatory.

— by Neil DeChambeau