VAIL, Colorado - Don Kettle had a pretty good day Tuesday at the trucker chain-up station on Interstate 70 near the Vail Golf Course.
A team of Colorado State Patrol and Vail police officers spent the better part of two days this week pulling over truckers and checking their rigs for winter safety gear. Almost all those drivers got a pass. A few, though, got tickets.
Kettle, a Colorado State Patrol officer in the department's motor carrier safety division, has been working since August to make sure truckers using Interstate 70 are carrying the right, required-by-law, gear.
For the past few years, state law has required truckers using I-70 to carry chains or approved alternatives from Sept. 1-May 30. That law is more than a good idea - it's a no-warning ticket.
A trucker caught without chains during that period will receive a $67 ticket. Truckers who have chains but don't use them when the state's chain law is in effect can be fined $579. During a storm, any driver without chains when the state chain law is in effect can either buy chains - from local tow companies or a company that helps truckers install the traction devices - or can be told to turn around and park at the rest area in Edwards until the chain requirement is lifted.
That's expensive in terms of time lost, but it's a bargain compared to the cost of causing a highway slowdown or closure. The driver of a commercial vehicle who isn't using chains who gets stuck and closes any part of a lane is subject to a fine of $1,157. Chains are cheap by comparison.
The fines are steep because closing I-70 due to a truck accident in a blizzard - especially on a busy or holiday weekend - is a frustrating and expensive proposition.
So far, the law seems to be having its intended effect.
State Patrol Trooper Eric Miller usually works in the department's hazardous materials division these days, but he's worked along the I-70 corridor since the late 1990s. Miller said the chain requirement has helped avoid some bad-weather closures. Once enforcement was mandatory, most truckers now carry the required gear.
Tuesday, the cops working the I-70 roadside checked 358 commercial vehicles of all kinds. Only 18 didn't have the required gear.
Kettle said a couple of the drivers he ticketed weren't happy - it's hard to imagine anyone's thrilled at a $67 bill. One driver told Kettle there had been chains in the truck he was driving, but that another driver had taken them out. Another driver said he'd been told chain season didn't start until the end of October.
Getting out the word is why Kettle and others have been working since August to tell truckers about the requirements. In addition, the variable message signs along I-70 from the eastern to western border of the state have told truckers about the requirement.
Lamont Horvath drives a short-haul rig for AirGas, a Glenwood Springs-based supply company. Horvath said he drives over Vail Pass at least once a week, and has done so for years. He has chains in his truck all year, and was happy for the few minutes' delay Wednesday.
"I get $50 every time I pass a safety check," Horvath said.
Beyond the bonus, though, Horvath said he's in favor of requiring the right gear for truckers.
"It's an excellent idea," Horvath said. "A lot of people don't know how to put chains on, but if you've got chains you can at least crawl over the pass."