2009 winter chain advisory

By Jami Jones
senior editor


Inevitably, every year after the “winter chain advisory” prints in the October book, a reader or two run into a snag in Colorado.

It’s easy to see why there would be confusion with some of the chain law regulations around the country. It seems like you need to be fluent in a language that is some kind of twisted combination of geek-speak and government.

So, to put the matter to rest once and for all – or until Colorado changes the law again – here’s the deal: On the next page you will find the correct description of the Colorado chain laws. And, for complete, 100 percent, irrefutable confirmation, we are even printing a letter received from the Colorado DOT explaining the reg and enforcement. See it on Page 69.

As for the other states, you’ll find them below. Although every effort has been made to ensure all important details are included, if you are ever in doubt get in touch with the cops at the chicken coop or a state DOT official.

California does not require trucks to carry chains during any specified time period. When the weather hits, though, it takes at least eight chains for a standard tractor-trailer configuration to comply with the regulations in order to proceed.

Chains or cables?
Conventional tire chains and cable chains, as well as other less conventional devices such as “Spikes Spyder,” are permitted. Trucks with cable-type chains are legal, but may be restricted at times because of severe conditions – which can happen commonly in the higher elevations.

Eight total. On the tractor, four chains must be on all four tires of the main drive axle. Two more chains are required on the outside tires of the second drive axle. You have options on the placement of the two more required chains on the trailer axles. Chains can be placed on the outside of either axle or even staggered in placement with one set of chains on the outside of one axle and the second set on the outside of the other axle.

Route specific
Chains are most often required in the higher mountain passes of northern California, such as:

  • Interstate 5 north of Redding;
  • Interstate 80 over Donner Pass between Sacramento and Reno, NV; and
  • U.S. Highway 50 over Echo Summit between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento.
Chains are also sometimes
required on:
  • State Route 58 near Tehachapi between Bakersfield and Mojave;
  • Interstate 15 over Cajon Pass between Victorville and San Bernardino; and
  • Interstate 5 over Tejon Pass between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
However, snow can fall unseasonably at higher elevations at many locations within California. Chains may be required at any time at these higher elevations when conditions warrant.

Colorado’s chain law applies to every state highway, federal highway and interstate throughout the state. The chain law is in effect when drivers are notified by roadside signs. Truckers will need four chains to be in compliance when it’s time to throw iron. There is no requirement to carry extra chains or cables.

The Colorado law changed a bit in 2007. Now, truckers traveling specifically on I-70 between mile marker 163 in Edwards and mile marker 259 in Morrison must carry sufficient chains to be in compliance from Sept. 1 through May 31.

And, if you violate Colorado’s chain law, you’d better be ready to pay. You can be fined $500, plus a surcharge, for not putting on chains when required. If you block the roadway because you didn’t throw iron when the law was in effect, you can be dinged with a $1,000 fine, plus a surcharge.

There are two levels of the chain law:

  • Level 1, Code 17 – Single drive axle, combination commercial vehicles must chain up all four drive tires. Cables are not allowed in this instance. All other commercial vehicles must have either snow tires or chains to proceed.
  • Level 2, Code 18 – Chains are required for all commercial vehicles. Again, all four tires of single-drive tractors must be chained. For dual-drive axle tractors, you’re only required to chain four drive tires. Outside tires of drive axles must have chains. Inside tires may have cables.

Chains or cables?
Chains, as well as wheel sanders – which carry enough sand to negotiate a hill – and pneumatically driven chains are allowed. Cables are allowed in some scenarios – such as on trailers and on the inside tires of dual-drive axles.

Cables and chains are permitted only from Nov. 15 through April 30. No minimum number of chains are outlined in the regulations.

Officials in Idaho can determine, at any time, that Lookout Pass or Fourth of July Pass on I-90 or Lolo Pass on Highway 12 are unsafe, either individually or as a group. If that happens, signs will alert you to chain up.

If the alert is in effect, you will have to chain up a minimum of one tire on each side of drive axles and one axle at or near the rear of each trailer.

On a side note, studs are prohibited between May 1 and Sept. 30.

There are no specific dates for the use of tire chains or how many must be used. However, the state is painstakingly specific about the type of chains that are permitted.

Here’s the exact language from the Kentucky statute: “Where chains are used on rubber-tired vehicles, the cross chains shall be not more than three-fourths (3/4) of an inch in thickness or diameter, and shall be spaced not more than 10 inches apart, around the circumference of the tires.”

Chains may be required in Maryland if a snow emergency is declared. Snow emergencies can be declared for individual roads or statewide. Travel – other than for motorcycles – is prohibited on any highway that is designated and appropriately signposted as a vehicle emergency route … for which a snow emergency has been declared and is in effect, unless the vehicle is equipped with chains or snow tires on at least one wheel at each end of a driving axle.

Chains, of “reasonable proportion,” can be used for safety because of snow, ice or other conditions tending to cause a vehicle to skid. If used, the chain must not come in contact with the road.

The chain law goes into effect when roadside signs tell all drivers to chain up. The state’s requirement when the law is in effect is for all “driver” wheels to be chained up. So, for a dual axle tractor, it will mean keeping four chains on hand for when the law is in effect.

There aren’t specific dates for chain laws to be in effect. Again, roadside signs will let you know when chaining up is required. In Nevada, truckers will need to chain at least two wheels on the main drive axle. You are also required to chain the “braking wheels of any trailing vehicle in a combination of vehicles.”

New Jersey
New Jersey goes a little beyond the standard “chains are permitted when needed” directive. The state allows chains of reasonable proportions when roads, streets and highways are slippery, because of rain, snow, ice, oil, manner of construction or other reason.

However, “no chains shall be used at any time on improved highways when highway conditions do not make such use necessary for the safety of life or property.” Also, New Jersey prohibits the use of chains “likely to be thrown so as to endanger any person or property.”

New York
If New York officials, either state or local, post a route as a snow emergency route, all vehicles traveling on it will be required to have snow tires and/or chains. There are no specifics in the regs as to restricted chains.

Oregon’s law applies to all highways in the state. Signs will tell you when you are required to carry chains and when you are required to use them. You will need to have six chains on hand to comply in Oregon.
Again, you have a few options for which tires you are required to chain on the tractor, so here goes:

  • A tandem-drive axle tractor must have chains on two tires on each side of the primary drive axle (in other words, all four tires of the main axle); or
  • If both axles are powered, one tire on each side of each drive axle (again, four chains total required; you just don’t have to chain the inside tires).
Now on the trailer, here’s the deal:
  • Chains must also be placed on two tires, one on each side, of any axle on the trailer. (So the outside wheel of one axle is chained on one side of the trailer, and the outside wheel of the other axle is chained on the other side.)

Another emergency snow route state here. If officials declare a snow emergency route when the roadway is covered with ice or snow, only vehicles with snow tires or “tire chains on a driven axle” may proceed.

South Dakota
There is no chain law to speak of in South Dakota. However, the state DOT has the authority to restrict travel on roads. Signs will alert you to these restrictions. Tire chains or “sufficient traction devices” are allowed. You don’t have to wait for the signs to tell you to put on your chains. Chains are also permitted if conditions tending to cause a skid are present.

The only requirement involving tire chains in the Volunteer State is that every truck “likely to encounter” conditions requiring chains carry at least one chain.

Not much to this one. Utah requires tire chains only where posted. The chains should have “minimum traction.”

Chains must be carried Nov. 1 through April 1. It takes five chains to comply with the requirement. However, all vehicles of more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight must carry two extra chains for use in the event that road conditions require the use of more chains or in the event that chains in use are broken or otherwise made useless.

Chains or cables?
Chains must have two sides attached with cross-sections. Cables can be permitted. Plastic chains are prohibited.

On a dual axle trailer the outside tires on both axles will need to be chained in addition to one tire on either side of either trailer axle.

Route specific
On the following routes all vehicles and combinations of vehicles of more than 10,000 pounds shall carry sufficient tire chains to meet the requirements:

  • Snoqualmie Pass I-90, North Bend (MP 32) and Ellensburg (MP 101)
  • Blewett Pass Route 97, between MP 145 and MP 185
  • Stevens Pass Route 2, Dryden (MP 108) to Index (MP 36)
  • White Pass Route 12, Packwood (MP 135) to Naches (MP 187)
  • Satus Pass Route 97, Columbia River (MP 00) to Toppenish (MP 59)
  • Chinook Pass Route 410, Enumclaw (MP 25) to SR-12 (MP 342)
  • Sherman Pass Route 20, Tonasket (MP 262) to Kettle Falls (MP 342)
  • Omak to Nespelem Route 155, Omak (MP 79) to Nespelem (MP 45)
  • Cle Elum to Teanaway Route 970, Cle Elum (MP 0) to Teanaway (MP 10)
  • Gibbons Creek to Intersection of Cliffs Road Route 14, Gibbons Creek (MP 18) to intersection of Cliffs Rd. (MP 108)
  • Newhalem to Winthrop Route 20, Newhalem (MP 120) to Winthrop
  • (MP 192)
  • Mount Baker Highway Route 542, (MP 22) to (MP 57)
  • Ellensburg to Selah I-82 from Ellensburg (MP 3) to Selah (MP 26)

The Wyoming law is pretty basic and simply allows for travel to be restricted. You’ll be notified by signs. There is no requirement on how many chains must be used in order to comply. The regulations list tire chains or “sufficient traction devices” as approved devices. LL