Be in the know to go in snow

Motorists should be aware of laws regarding traction, plows


While watching the snowfall can be relaxing and playing in it can be a lot of fun, driving in Colorado's snowstorms can be less than desirable.

“We know it's going to happen,” said Andrew Hogle, a public information officer with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the organization's Winter Wise campaign. “We're going to get a snow event.”

There are two new laws Colorado drivers should be aware of when driving in snowy weather. One is the snowplow law, which affects all motorists statewide. It requires that drivers not pass working snowplows. The second is the passenger vehicle traction law, which primarily affects I-70 drivers — including ski resort destinations — west of the metro area.

Colorado's traction law

If winter weather driving conditions are bad enough, CDOT can implement an active traction law on any state highway. When active, there will be highway signage, or motorists can receive an alert by signing up through CDOT's website.

When the traction law is active, it requires that all vehicles on state highways fit one of these categories: four-wheel/all-wheel drive; equipped with a traction device such as chains; or have snow tires or tires with mud and snow designation.

In addition, all tire tread must be at least 3/16 of an inch in depth.

“The deeper the tread, the better the snow traction,” said John Tracey, owner of South Park Tire and Automotive Center in Littleton.

But that doesn't mean everyone needs to replace their current snow tires to be able to get around this winter, Tracey said.

“Many tires are being thrown away before their lifespan,” Tracey added.

To make sure your tires aren't being discarded before they're worn, have them checked first to ensure they're adequate for winter weather, Tracey said. Tires have a small notch, known as a wear bar, built in for self-checking, Tracey said. But any tire shop can also measure the tread for those who are unfamiliar with doing it themselves and/or want an expert's accuracy.

Tracey also recommends that everyone consult with a tire dealer to discuss what type of tire would meet their specific winter driving needs. For example, Tracey services a lot of seniors who are retired, he said. They may only need a front-wheel-drive car with all-season tires, Tracey said, because they might be able to avoid driving in the snow and ice altogether by staying home during a storm and waiting until after the streets are plowed.

But on the other hand, there are ski-and-snowboard enthusiasts who need to travel safely in the mountains every weekend.

“It would be crazy” and unsafe for them not to have their vehicle properly equipped for inclement weather, he said.

Additional precautions on I-70

CDOT states that “the I-70 mountain corridor is one of Colorado's most highly traveled corridors … and the corridor is also frequently subject to dangerous winter weather driving conditions.”

This is why I-70 is being targeted for the newest rules of Colorado's traction law, Hogle said.

Beginning on Sept. 1 this year and continuing to May 31, 2020, the traction law will be active for all motorists traveling I-70 from Morrison to Dotsero.

This means that in this 126-mile stretch all winter, every vehicle must be traction law compliant as explained above, or be carrying chains, cables or an alternative traction device at all times.

“A single car spinout can cause a holdup for a couple hundred vehicles,” Hogle said. “We see accidents that could've been avoided happen all the time.”

If not compliant with the law, fines can range from $130 for just not being compliant — inadequate tread on snow tires and no alternate traction device, for example — to $650 if the non-compliancy caused a traffic event such as a crash.

Colorado State Patrol will be enforcing the law, Hogle said. For the first year, it will be a secondary offense, Hogle said, such as if you were pulled over for speeding and the state trooper found that the vehicle was additionally not in compliance with the law.

'Bow to the Plow'

No matter what street you're driving on, all motorists need to understand the new snowplow law. Being dubbed "Bow to the Plow," it means simply: Don't pass a working snowplow.

“If they're out there doing their work,” Hogle said, “it means there's icy and snowy conditions. A little patience goes a long way.”

If snowplows are not working, they're just like any other vehicle, Hogle said, and it's OK to pass them on the left. Drivers can recognize a working snowplow because its blue lights will be flashing, and often there will be two of them in tandem, Hogle said.

“It may be an inconvenience” driving behind a slow-moving snowplow, Hogle said, “but a crash is a much worse inconvenience.”

Be smart on the road and plan ahead

Other than knowing the laws, it's “important to plan ahead and make sure your vehicle is ready for winter,” Hogle said.

CDOT has vehicle and safety checklists available for winter driving preparedness on its website.

A few of these include making sure windshield wipers, headlights and brakes are working properly, as well as having a flashlight and extra batteries; an extra set of warm clothes such as a coat, hat and mittens; water and non-perishable food; a first-aid kit; and jumper cables in case of an emergency.

“Hopefully you'll never need them, but it's better to be prepared,” Hogle said. “It's not just mountain driving that can be hazardous. Be smart about being on the road.”

To learn more about CDOT's Winter Wise campaign, visit


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