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Colorado Department of Transportation’s New Traction Law

A traffic backup on westbound Interstate 70 heading into the Rocky Mountains. - MILEHIGHTRAVELER VIA GETTY IMAGES
A traffic backup on westbound Interstate 70 heading into the Rocky Mountains – MILEHIGHTRAVELER VIA GETTY IMAGES

If you’re an avid I-70 traveler, you may already know about the new traction law that has been imposed this year in Colorado. If you’re not, it’s a good time to become aware of what it is, and how to avoid any trouble with it.

Ski season has dawned upon us here in Colorado and for those who like to hit Copper Mountain, Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, Powderhorn, Winter Park or Sunlight regularly, you need to be aware of the new traction law to avoid any unfortunate fines. This new legislation was updated August 2nd, 2019 and was actually implemented starting on September 1st, 2019 and will stretch all the way until May 31st, 2020. This law will be imposed on the 126 mile stretch of I-70 that goes from Morrison to Dotsero.

This law basically gives drivers three different options in order to comply. They can be broken down like this:

  1. A 4WD/AWD vehicle AND a required minimum tire tread depth of 3/16 of an inch.
  2. A 2WD vehicle AND M + S (mud and snow) designated tires OR Winter designated tires OR All-Weather designated tires AND a required minimum tire tread depth of 3/16 of an inch.
  3. A 2WD vehicle (without M + S, Winter, or All-Weather designated tires) AND an alternative traction device like chains or an Autosock.

With the three different options offered to comply, there’s fortunately some flexibility for drivers in Colorado. For those familiar with Colorado’s traction laws in the past, you might notice that the updated required minimum tire tread depth increased from 2/16 of an inch to 3/16 of an inch.

If you’re unfamiliar with tire tread depth, 3/16 of an inch is still not a super strict requirement, as most car shops will suggest you get new tires once your tread depth reaches a point of 4/16 of an inch. One simple trick for testing your own tire tread depth, if you don’t have any measuring tools on you, is using a quarter. If you place the quarter inside your tired tread upside down, and the tread reaches at least to the top of George Washington’s head, then you have a tire tread depth of 4/16 on an inch or higher and are good to go. If not, it might be time to get some new tires or look into getting an alternative traction device.

Photo Credit - Ocskay Mark -Shutterstock
Photo Credit – Ocskay Mark -Shutterstock

Alternative traction devices are great tools to use for better traction if you can’t afford a whole new tire overhaul right away. Tire chains can be a really simple fix to your traction issues, but it’s important to find the right ones for your vehicle. Many vehicles with anti-lock brakes, traction control, all-wheel drive and other electronically monitored control systems have better compatibility with Z chains, where the chains make a zigzag up and down your tire. Other vehicles who don’t have any of these systems might be better off with Radial chains, which are really simple and just go across your tire horizontally. There are a couple of different variations outside of these two that may work better for your vehicle, but either way, it’s important to take the time to find the right fit. These chains will cost you anywhere from $40 to over $100 a pop and depending on your vehicle, you should only need to buy tire chains for your tires used for traction.

Another great alternative traction device is an Autosock. Depending on the snow situation, however, the Autosock may or may not be as effective as chains. If there is heavily packed snow involved, you might be better off with chains. An Autosock can be really effective for traction in many cases, and they’re often considered to be easier to install than chains. They’re slightly more expensive too – with a price of around $100-$160 per sock for a high-quality product. Another important downside to note with an Autosock is that when they’re on your vehicle, your overall speeds must be reduced to a maximum of 30 MPH or you could risk damaging the sock and your vehicle.

If you’re considering going with an alternative traction device, it can be a great option, but it’s important to take the time to find the best and most effective option for your specific vehicle. You can purchase either tire chains or an Autosock online or at any tire or auto parts store near you. You can also find both these alternative traction options at your local Walmart, as well.

All this being said, there are always other options to get up to the mountains without having to drive yourself. It’s always a good idea to organize a carpool with friends and family, especially if their vehicle complies with the traction law and yours may not. Outside of that option, there’s a long list of buses, trains and shuttles that different services in Colorado offer to help you get up on the mountain without the hassle of driving. A new service that’s beginning this year, is the Snowstang, which is provided by the same company as the Bustang. The Snowstang will take you from Denver to Steamboat Springs, Loveland and Arapahoe Basin for an affordable ticket price on the weekends this ski season and a few other select days.

Well how serious is this law, you might ask?

The fines, if you’re caught not adhering to the updated law, can range anywhere from $130 to $650, with the highest fines being imposed if your lack of adherence causes you to spin out and block the road or cause a collision.

This all may seem like an inconvenience to some people, especially during the drier days of the winter. However, it’s important to remember this is all in the best interest of the public’s safety. If everyone does their part to comply, it will be a safer ski season for everyone. You may have to spend a little extra time and cash to make sure you can comply with one of the three options offered, but a safer driving experience on I-70 is well worth it.

Have a great ski season and be safe!


Alec Stowell

Alec Stowell is a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is majoring in Journalism and minoring in Business with a focus in entrepreneurship. He was born in Glenwood Springs and grew up skiing in the roaring fork valley. Being active and exploring the outdoors has always been a huge priority to him – everything from skiing, basketball, mountain biking, hiking, and more have all been hobbies of his for as long as he can remember. Early in his education, he discovered a passion for writing and so when the opportunity came along to both ski and write, he was ecstatic. After graduation, he hopes to still be able to pursue a career in which he can combine his passion for writing and the outdoors, but is still figuring out what the future holds. For now, he is looking forward to making the most out of his ski season with Colorado Ski Country.