Stiffer fines for chain law violations advances in Colorado

| 3/23/2007

A revised version of a bill in Colorado that would boost fines for truck drivers who fail to chain up during bad weather is moving forward in the state's House. The state also allotted $2.5 million to build and expand new Interstate 70 chain-up spots.

Existing Colorado law fines truckers $100 for failure to put on snow chains. If an unchained truck results in a blocked highway the fine jumps to $500. Drivers don't have points added to their commercial driver's license for the offense.

The House Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill offered by Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, to increase the base fine to $500. The fine would double to $1,000 if trucks not in compliance block traffic.

Revenue generated would be earmarked for the state's Highway Users Tax Fund for future safety projects.

Supporters say the steeper penalties are needed because truck drivers and their companies simply write off the current fine as "the cost of doing business." They say the need to address the issue is highlighted because portions of Interstate 70 closed 15 times in Colorado this winter due to chainless trucks.

Owner-operator and OOIDA Board Member Jim Mathews of Greeley, CO, said it's inaccurate to depict truckers as dismissive of fines.

"We're all out here trying to make a living. Somehow the rumor spread we make lots of money." Mathews told Land Line.

Gibbs' previous attempt was sidelined last month by the same committee amid concerns that the bill proposed to add four points onto violators' commercial driver's licenses if they blocked traffic.

Lawmakers and truckers also were concerned there is a lack of adequate space on roadways for drivers to install chains. In addition, too few designated chain-up sites along routes was cited as a problem for truckers.

Colorado State Patrol Capt. Ron Prater said during a hearing on the original bill that he has noticed the state's designated chain areas can't always handle the truck traffic that uses the I-70 corridor. He said the shortage of spots along the corridor is so bad that it's not uncommon to see truck drivers pulled off anywhere along the route to put on or take off their chains, the Summit Daily News reported.

Mathews said it all makes for a dangerous situation.

"You're right next to traffic trying to chain up. Then you have cars come along and throw slush on you. It makes for miserable conditions," he said.

To help alleviate some of the problem, the Colorado Transportation Commission pledged nearly $2.5 million to improve chain-up sites and signage to reduce speed near the pull-offs.

Commission officials said they plan to build six new chain-up stations. They also want to increase spaces on westbound I-70 from 56 to 116 and on the eastbound side from 170 to 216, the Daily News reported.

A provision added to the bill also would allow vendors to rent or sell chains on both sides of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Mathews said it should never come to the point that vendors are needed to offer chains during bad weather. "It should be the company's responsibility if they're running in snow country to have them," he said.

The bill - HB1229 - has been forwarded to the House Appropriations Committee.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor