Colorado Lawmakers Propose New Winter Driving Rules For I-70

Originally published on February 22, 2019 7:36 pm

Colorado lawmakers are renewing an effort to prevent accidents and travel headaches on Interstate 70 in the mountains.

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday would require drivers to carry chains or have tires with sufficient tread throughout the entire winter season on the interstate.

The legislation specifically requires all drivers to have the adequate tires, chains or alternative traction devices, such as AutoSocks, and be ready to use them whenever snowy and icy conditions exist from Sept. 1 to May 31.

Drivers who have the right combination of tires and four-wheel or all-wheel drive would also be OK under the proposal.

The rules would apply to the portion of I-70 that runs between Morrison on the Front Range and Dotsero on the Western Slope.

Currently, the State Patrol can only enforce the tire and traction rules when an emergency is declared on the interstate and the traction and chain laws are in effect.

But emergency responders have told lawmakers the conditions on the interstate can start to deteriorate hours before the chain laws actually go into effect.

State Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, is a sponsor of the bill.

“It really just requires that you be prepared,” Rankin said Friday.  “I mean, go spend 30 to 50 bucks on a set of chains and throw em’ in the trunk. Then you’re prepared. Or have proper tread depth and four-wheel drive.”

Rankin said he thinks the current traction laws don’t deter drivers without the proper equipment from turning around if conditions start getting bad on the interstate.

He thinks the law should be changed so drivers have the right equipment even before the snow starts to fall.

“My view is, you get halfway up the hill, and the sign says the traction law is in effect, are you going to turn around?,” Rankin asked. “I don’t think so, If you’re in Boulder and you’re going skiing, you’re probably not going to turn around.”

The legislation is not a new idea.

Rankin teamed up with former State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, on very similar pieces of legislation in 2015 and 2016.

The proposal in 2016 had the support of the Colorado State Patrol, the I-70 Coalition and several emergency responders who often have to tend to accidents and stalls on the interstate in snowy conditions.

But the legislation was blocked by Republicans on the Senate Transportation Committee who questioned whether a new law was necessary.

There were also questions as to whether the proposal could actually be enforced.

With new leadership and a Democratic majority on that transportation committee this year, the third version of the proposal might find better traction.

In addition to Rankin, it's been sponsored by State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon.

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