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States with the strictest chain laws

Colorado has some of the tightest rules for truckers

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Commercial truck drivers have a tough job, especially when snow begins falling. Many states require drivers to use chains to achieve better traction, keeping drivers, their freight and everyone else on the roads safe. The following states have some of the strictest chain laws in the country because of frequent snowstorms and areas of rugged terrain.


Overall, Colorado has among the strictest chain laws, which begin earlier in the season than those of any other state.

Colorado’s chain law applies to every state, federal and interstate highway within its borders from Sept. 1 through May 31.

Depending on the weight of the tractor-trailer, drivers are required to carry chains on Interstate 70 between Dotsero and Morrison, a 126-mile stretch. If a driver gets busted for not carrying chains, the fine is $50 plus a $17 surcharge.

If a driver doesn’t chain up when required, he or she can be fined $500, plus a $79 surcharge. If a trucker blocks the road as a result of not chaining up when the law was in effect, the fine is $1,000, plus a $157 surcharge. Truckers must have chains on the four drive tires to be compliant.

Rules are a little less strict regarding the types of chains and alternative traction devices (ATDs) that truckers can use. Guidelines can be found here.


California does not require truckers 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 be in compliance with the regulations. Drivers can use conventional tire chains and cable chains, as well as less conventional devices like a Spikes-Spider.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has updated its website regarding chain requirements for 18-wheelers. Information about chain placement and other rules can be found here.

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; and U.S. Highway 50 over Echo Summit between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento.

(Photo: Colorado State Patrol)


In Washington state, drivers must carry chains from 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 in the event that road conditions require the use of more chains, or if chains in use are broken or otherwise useless.

Chains must have two sides attached with cross-sections. Cables are permitted, but plastic chains are not.

On a dual-axle tractor, the outside tires on both axles need to be chained in addition to one tire on either side of either trailer axle. Tractors equipped with wide-base singles will have to chain each tire on each drive axle.

The chain laws apply to portions of Interstates 82 and 90, as well as 10 stretches of state highways.

The Washington State Department of Transportation or Washington State Patrol may prohibit any vehicles from entering a chain/approved traction tire control area if they determine that the vehicles will experience difficulty in safely traveling the area.

South Dakota and Utah

These two states have looser chain laws overall compared to the states previously discussed, but violations can cost drivers a big chunk of change.

The South Dakota DOT has the authority to restrict travel on roads. Signs alert drivers about these restrictions. Violating the restrictions could land truckers with a Class 2 misdemeanor conviction.

In Utah, drivers of commercial vehicles with four or more drive wheels, other than a bus, will need to affix tire chains to at least four of the drive wheel tires. A violation will result in a Class B misdemeanor fine of up to $1,000. The Utah DOT has the authority to restrict highway travel between Oct. 1 and April 30 to vehicles either running chains or at least having them in a driver’s possession.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.