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Getting savvy with the current chain laws is criticial - or you may hear some Hy-Po singing that old familiar tune

By Don and Debbe Morrow
OOIDA member contributors

Even though fall brings some welcome relief from summer’s high temperatures, we all know what comes next - winter.

And winter for truckers means one thing: You’re probably going to be throwing iron before too much longer. But throwing iron isn’t as simple as putting chains or cables on when you know you need the added traction. Throw in all the states’ different laws and things get tricky - quick.

There are several different types of chains, or approved traction devices as they are often referred to in state regulations and advisories. The two that dominate in actual usage are link chains and cables.

Most of the big carriers use cables for two very good reasons: cables are cheaper; cables are lighter weight. The drawback to using cables is they are not approved traction devices in all states.

For the purposes of this article, we will refer to both cables and chains as chains unless we specify we are discussing cables. Here are a few general suggestions that will help in dealing with chains and adverse conditions.

What does a driver need to know about chain laws for the winter of 2005-2006?

Question: How many chains do I need?
ANSWER: This varies from state to state, but California expects the most - with up to eight, depending on conditions. Remember, chains need to be the proper size for your tires and carry extras because inspectors won’t count broken ones.

Question: Are there certain times of the year that I must carry chains?
ANSWER: Washington is the only state that gives specific dates (Nov. 1 through April 1). Other states may not give dates, but if road conditions warrant chain use, you will be expected to have them available.

Question: Do I need chains or are other traction devices acceptable?
ANSWER: Link chains are universally accepted as a traction device. Cables have some limitations. Colorado requires chains only on single axle combination vehicles.

Colorado also allows a combination of chains and cables on trucks with two drive axles. Other states, such as Oregon and California, accept cables but reserve the right to require “chains only,” depending on road conditions.

Other traction devices like wheel sanders and pneumatically driven chains are acceptable in some areas but not everywhere.

Question: How am I notified when I need to use chains?
ANSWER: One method of communication is signs along the roadway. Other methods include local radio and pass boards at local truck stops. Idaho occasionally broadcasts conditions over the CB radio.

Question: Is my road speed limited when I have chains installed?
ANSWER: Yes, no more than 25 mph if the chains are tight. Go slower than 25 mph if the chains are loose. Chains will loosen up after installation. Plan on stopping shortly after installation to make adjustments.

Question: People talk about drag chains. What are they talking about?
ANSWER: Drag chains are tire chains used on the trailer tires to enhance braking and control. California, Oregon and Washington all require drag chains.

Question: Are there different levels of chain laws?
ANSWER: Yes. In California, you will see signs for chain law levels R1, R2 and R3 for trucks. They all mean the same to a commercial driver - either chain up, or stop and wait for conditions to improve.

In Colorado, a Level I requires single drive axle combination vehicles to chain up. A Level II requires that all commercial vehicles chain up. Oregon also has different levels, but the requirements on their roadside signs are very specific. They use plain English and the signs are easy to understand.

Question: Are there other states that have chain laws?
ANSWER: Yes. If you are prepared for the states that we have mentioned, you should be ready for the rest.

Question: Any last suggestions?
ANSWER: Practice installing your chains when the weather is nice. That way, you can work out the bugs in comfort. Use several bungee straps to keep the chains tight. Always carry extra straps.

Don and Debbe may be reached at