The Colorado Senate has approved a bill that would boost fines for truck drivers who fail to chain up during bad weather. The state also will allot nearly $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 Senate voted 33-1 to approve a bill – HB1229 – that would increase the base fine to $500. The fine would double to $1,000 if trucks not in compliance block traffic.
Sponsored by Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, the bill now heads to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk for his signature. The House already approved it on a 56-9 vote.
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 Life 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 in February by a House committee amid concerns that the bill proposed to add four points onto violators’ commercial driver’s licenses if they blocked traffic. That provision was removed.
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.
To help alleviate some of the problem, the Colorado Transportation Commission pledged $2.475 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.
That work is scheduled to begin this summer.
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.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor