Will tire law be able to help traffic flow? | VailDaily.com

Will tire law be able to help traffic flow?

EAGLE COUNTY — Most of us know that Colorado has a chain law for trucks and passenger cars, but what does that mean? Diane Mitsch Bush hopes a bill she's co-sponsoring can help clear up that confusion.

Mitsch Bush, a Democrat who represents Eagle and Routt counties in the Colorado Legislature, along with Republican Rep. Bob Rankin, of Carbondale, are sponsoring a bill that would help clarify just what the chain law means for motorists. The bill has already passed two of its three necessary steps to clear the state's House of Representatives. If passed there, then the bill would go to the Colorado Senate.

Kerry Donovan, the Vail Democrat who represents Eagle County in the Colorado Senate, said she hadn't yet reviewed the house bill, but wrote in an email that she's in favor of a measure that would "… clarify rules and regulations regarding winter travel for motorist and keep (Interstate 70) moving."

Having Adequate Tread

According to an emailed statement from Mitsch Bush, the bill requires passenger vehicle tires to have adequate tread or for motorists to carry chains or similar devices from Nov. 1 to May 15 when they drive I-70 between Morrison and Dotsero. In this case, adequate means tires have to have at least one-eighth of an inch of tread to be legal.

Mitsch Bush said she believes the bill is fairly straightforward. Still, she added, there's a lot of misinformation about it.

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"There's nothing in it that sets up checkpoints," she said. "There are no new fines."

Those fines range from $100 to $500 for any motorist whose vehicle isn't properly equipped and subsequently causes an accident or highway closure.

Equipment on board

What the bill does, she said, is clarify that the state's current law applies to both passenger cars and heavy trucks. The bill also clears up confusion about informing motorists about conditions. Now, she said, cars, like heavy trucks, are required to have the proper equipment at all times.

The bill has support from a range of highway- and tourism-related groups, including the Colorado Motor Carriers Association — the trucking group — the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association and the I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit group made up of counties, towns and businesses along the I-70 mountain corridor.

Coalition program manager Margaret Bowes said the bill helps answer a frequent question from motorists about what defines adequate tread.

Those definitions, along with the requirements for people without adequate tires to carry chains or other devices will make enforcement of the law easier, Bowes said.

The tread-depth requirement doesn't require a ruler. Put a quarter into the deepest tread of your tires. If any part of George Washington's head is covered, then you're fine.

If motorists need traction devices, then the I-70 Coalition this winter struck a deal for a product called the Auto Sock, a fabric alternative to chains that the manufacturer claims is much easier to mount than chains.

Bowes said information centers in resort towns either have the socks for sale or can direct motorists to stores that do.

Possible Hiccup

Area Realtor Craig Denton has relatives in Boulder and clients on the Front Range. He frequently makes the trip from Vail to the Denver area. Denton said that, with one reservation, Mitsch Bush's bill sounds like a good idea.

"It's people with crappy tires who cause a lot of the problems," Denton said. "I rail on my (adult) kids about it all the time."

Denton said he wonders how the bill might apply to out-of-state motorists who might be unaware of the law and fined in the case that they're involved in an accident.

And, while it might be impractical, Denton said when he used to live in California, state troopers there did check cars bound for Lake Tahoe when that state's chain law was in effect.

Still, he said, it's not hard to ensure your tires are in decent conditions before setting out for the High Country.

"People just don't understand how important it is," he said. "I check all the time."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

What’s the process?

A bill in the Colorado House of Representatives needs three votes of approval before being passed on to the Colorado Senate. If the bill passes there with changes, the new bill heads to a committee that must approve or amend those changes before sending the bill to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

To read the text of the bill, HB1173, go to the Colorado Legislature’s website.