Vail Daily editorial: Pass the traction bill
The Colorado House of Representatives has passed, for the second year, a bill that would require passenger vehicles to have appropriate winter tires or chains when Interstate 70 is snowpacked and icy.
The bill was co-sponsored in the House by Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat who represents Eagle and Routt counties, and Bob Rankin, a Republican whose district includes Carbondale. This year, the measure picked up a Colorado Senate sponsor, Vail’s Kerry Donovan.
The bill seems to make sense: When the Colorado Department of Transportation declares that I-70 between roughly Morrison and Dotsero is snowpacked and icy, drivers of passenger cars and trucks must have adequate tires, tire chains or similar traction devices.
The transportation department and the Colorado State Patrol can now declare something called a “code 15” that triggers the requirement, but it’s not unusual for the declaration to be imposed several times over the course of a day. That’s confusing.
According to a fact sheet about the bill from Mitsch Bush’s office, the state had a similar situation with commercial vehicles prior to 2009. The law then, as with the passenger-vehicle law now, required proper equipment only after a declaration had been made. Making chains and adequate tires the winter rule eliminated confusion and helped reduce truck-caused accidents. The idea behind the Mitsch Bush/Rankin bill is to apply the same rules to passenger vehicles.
Keeping the interstate open is a big deal. The big highway is the quickest, most safe way for vehicles to cross the state, and interstate closures come with a cost, estimated at $800,000 per hour in economic activity.
A similar bill to the current one passed the House in 2015, but it was blocked in the Senate. One of the leading skeptics about the bill was, and remains, Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Republican whose district includes Grand County.
In an emailed response to a question about his skepticism about this bill, Baumgardner replied that the current rules seem to be working and are helping cut down on accidents.
“I just don’t believe in passing new laws when a problem can be addressed by a consistent enforcement of existing laws, which is the case here,” Baumgardner wrote.
That’s a fair point, and one we agree with much of the time. But the rules aren’t working as well as they could. That leads to more accidents, injuries and interstate closures, thanks to both confusion about the law and the fact that too many people drive through the mountains during snowstorms on marginal tires.
Then there’s the fact that the two state departments in charge of keeping I-70 open believe the current bill will help them do their jobs better.
Those who make policy need to listen to reasonable requests from the people who have to carry out those policies. The answer to those requests doesn’t always have to be “yes,” of course. But in this case, two state agencies, joined by every community and most business interests along the I-70 corridor, believe this bill can help. It isn’t onerous on drivers, and it comes at a very low cost to the state treasury.
It’s time for the Senate to pass this bill and send it to the governor so it can become law.