Vail Daily letter: Unenforceable measures
Many years ago, my father told me that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. With that in mind, the Colorado Legislature is considering a bill to ticket drivers who cause accidents along I-70 during winter conditions if the amount of tread on the tires is considered to be unsafe and the driver has not applied chains or some other technology to provide additional friction to prevent a car out of control. This legislation is favored by the Vail Daily per a recent editorial.
If passed, this law will be unenforceable as currently drafted. What measurement of tread will be used to determine how much tread is too little? Will the Colorado State Patrol carry around the little instruments that measure tread depth? Will they apply the standards set by the association that represents tire manufacturers that advise that tires should be changed out before the wear factor on the tread reaches 80 percent or will they apply the more lenient standard put out by AAA that the change out should occur before the wear factor reaches 90 percent?
No doubt the advised standards are general and not specific to weather conditions. So, what standard will be used? Will it be the same for performance tires, all season tires, mud and snow tires or tires specifically sold as snow tires?
Let’s look at a more complicated scenario. Every accident involving multi-car collisions is caused by a car or cars at the front of the line or by a car crossing into oncoming traffic (a fairly rare incident on the stretch of I-70 we are referring to). In a line of cars driving in very icy conditions on I-70, the lead car loses control and goes into a slide or spin. In fast succession, a half a dozen cars not far behind go into a series of slides and skids to avoid the car in front. These trailing cars make contact with each other spreading the carnage over both lanes and the shoulder. Sound familiar?
The lead car regains control and drives away. The other cars are left sitting, backing up traffic behind. Who gets the ticket? Tire condition is important. It’s just not going to make much of a difference unless the conditions placed on motorists become much more severe, which is not good news to Vail Resorts.
Are there other things that can be done? Yes. I’ve been driving I-70 in our mountains in winter since 1978 and in the Sierras eight years before that. The volume of traffic on I-70 is much heavier today and the alternatives (like a rail system) were dismissed decades ago. What else can help? First, drivers today drive much faster than conditions dictate. Many owners of all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles believe that their drive systems give them an advantage in slowing their vehicles on icy conditions. Surprise! They don’t. If your tires are locked up on a severe brake, you have no more braking than a two-wheel rear drive car.
What do you do when needing to brake with a small tolerance for error? Use your gears! Yes, the vast majority of cars today are automatic transmission. That doesn’t mean you can’t manually downshift your gears. Downshifting gears allow engine compression to slow the car independent of the brakes.
So try this. When red tail lights are in your future on an icy downslope, take your foot off the gas, shift down a gear and then feather the brake pedal. Repeat as necessary through several downshifts. This will be effective if you aren’t driving like your hair is on fire and your front bumper isn’t playing kiss and tell with the rear bumper in front of you.
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