Commercial truck drivers have a tough job, especially when winter storms kick in. Many states require drivers to use chains for better traction and safer driving. The following states have some of the strictest chain laws in the country, based on various factors. Overall, Colorado seems to have the strictest chain law. The rest of the top five states are listed in no particular order.
Related: How to chain your tires
Colorado’s commercial vehicle chain law applies to every state, federal and interstate highway within Colorado’s borders. Colorado Department of Transportation static and electronic variable message road signs will notify drivers when they need to put chains on their tires in the event of hazardous winter weather. Truckers must chain up on the four drive tires to be compliant, but chains are not required on trailers.
The enforcement period for the chain law runs from Sept. 1 to May 31. During this time, commercial drivers are only required to carry chains on Interstate 70 between the Dotsero (Milepost 133) and Morrison exits (Milepost 259). This is because weather can change very quickly along this stretch of highway, and drivers may have to chain up at a moment’s notice. The fine for not carrying chains is $50 plus a $17 surcharge.
The following fines apply statewide:
• $500 plus a $79 surcharge for not installing chains when required.
• $1,000 plus a $157 surcharge for blocking a road as a result of not installing chains.
Joel Waidner, a trucker for Schuster, told FreightWaves he’s driven through several winter storms in Colorado with previous companies. Depending on how hard it was snowing when it came time to chain up, Waidner said it took him about 45 minutes to an hour.
“I keep a block in my truck and I drive up on it, then I slide them [the chains] on, and I have a tool that clamps them down,” Waidner explained.
He admitted he would rather not spend the time chaining up because time is money. But when it comes down to risking an accident and breaking the law versus waiting out the storm, he waits out the storm. Waidner said he’s seen serious wrecks resulting from truck drivers not putting chains on their tires.
“Your life ain’t worth the freight. Your life ain’t worth taking the chance,” Waidner added.
Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Charles Caster told FreightWaves that Nevada doesn’t require commercial drivers to carry chains during any certain period of the year. However, truckers are required to chain up on any street or highway in the state during icy or snowy conditions, as indicated by roadside message signs.
Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or more must use chains or alternative traction devices (ATDs) on drive wheels, as well as on braking wheels of trailers. Caster said the fee for not chaining up is usually $58, in addition to court fees, which vary from county to county.
Studded snow tires are permitted between Oct. 1 and April 30. However, retractable studded snow tires may be used at any time, but only with the studs retracted from May 1 to Sept. 30.
Only four-wheel or all-wheel vehicles with snow tires, as well as vehicles with approved tire chains, are allowed on the following roads when chain requirements are in place:
• State Route 431 (Mount Rose Highway).
• State Route 207 (Kingsbury Grade).
• U.S. Highway 50 between Glenbrook and Carson City.
California does not have any specific dates during which commercial drivers are required to carry chains. When roads are posted with signs saying that chains are required, all heavy-duty vehicles with a GVW of more than 6,500 pounds must be equipped with chains mounted on the tires in order to proceed.
Drivers can use conventional tire chains and cable chains, as well as less conventional devices like a Spikes-Spider. Which tires and how many of them must be chained depends on the chain requirement level posted.
Drivers may be cited by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and fined for violating the chain law, but the CHP hasn’t responded to FreightWaves’ questions regarding how much the fines are.
Chains are most often required in the higher mountain passes of Northern California, such as on Interstate 5 north of Redding; Interstate 80 over Donner Pass between Sacramento and Reno; as well as U.S. Highway 50 over Echo Summit between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento.
According to Washington’s chain law, “all vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or more shall carry a minimum of 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.”
In addition, approved chains must have at least two side chains with sufficient cross chains of hardened metal attached so that at least one cross chain touches the road surface at all times.
Drivers on more than 600 miles of certain interstate and state highways must carry sufficient chains to meet the requirements from Nov. 1 to April 1, or at other times when chains may be required for such vehicles. A list of those roads is available here.
The Washington State Patrol told FreightWaves that failure to carry chains when required is a $139 fine; failure to install chains when required is $503.
Oregon’s chain law applies to all highways in the state. During winter conditions, road sign messages typically tell drivers if they must carry chains and when they are required to use them. In some areas, lighted message signs also advise drivers about chaining up.
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) told FreightWaves that, beginning Sept. 25, the fine for commercial vehicle drivers not using chains when required is a minimum of $880. This is according to a law enacted earlier this year. ODOT will be doing some outreach in the next few weeks to educate the trucking industry.
Studded tires are legal in Oregon from Nov. 1 through March 31. However, because of the damage studded tires can cause to roads, ODOT encourages drivers to use them only when necessary. For information on placement of chains or traction tires, go here.
Chain laws for other states are available here.
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