Colorado winters and freeway tire chains

I just drove I70 today. Lots of permanent signs saying “chains required when flashing” and similar.

What’s the law? Does every car and truck need chains when the signs indicate? Four wheel drive trucks, too?

What happens if you don’t have any? Like you came cross country and the weather went bad against predictions, or you just don’t have them?

What’s the penalty if you don’t have them? (aside from ending up in the ditch)

Yes on passenger vehicles and rear drive trucks and maybe on 4x4 vehicles unless the truck is equipped with snow tires. Generally, if the signs are flashing, you probably shouldn’t be on the road unless you really have to get where you are going today or are a hardcore skiier.

If you don’t have chains, Highway Patrol pulls you over and cites you for safety violations, then makes you turn around. Penalties vary but are severe enough to make you consider investing in chains or snow tires for next time.


Grew up in western NY back in the 70s and 80s when it was snowier than it has been for the past 20 or so years. Winter automatically meant the chains, a shovel, a bag of sand and extra cold weather gear went into the trunk.

I might add, dad had military and boy sprout [sorry, family joke] cold weather survival training, and my brother and I got the benefit of the training [to the point where we would go winter camping.] Despite my current physical handicaps, I have worked at figuring out work arounds to let me be able to survive. [one of the main goodies is a military surplus arctic survival suit the classic pumpkin suit =) I also have the winter rated sleeping bag so the main option is to dress up, crawl into the bag and button up. I checked a couple winters ago, I was comfortable flaked out in a snow bank, with a contractor bag cut and spread to keep me dry. Not fond of balaclavas though, I hate the whole face covering but it is a major heat loss point otherwise.]

I did change from a standard snow shovel to a surplus sapirka, it can double as a hand ax with a bit off work with my tool kit.

It’s… weird.

I live in the Colorado mountains at 11,200 feet. Before COVID I drove over the continental divide every day. Luckily, not on I70 which I always try to avoid. Lot’s of idiots on that road. People fly in, rent a car with the bullshit all-season tires, and think they are good to go. On top of that they don’t know anything about driving in snow and ice.

There is a traction law, and a chain law. They are different. Colorado's Chain Law — Colorado Department of Transportation

My Wife and I have good 4x4’s with good snow tires (we will only buy BridgeStone Blizzaks or Nokian Hakkapeliitta). I don’t worry about chains for our cars. Never had a problem myself except for others that block the road. The only place I’ve been stuck is in our driveway. It’s very steep.

Semi’s will definitely get pulled over if they don’t have chains on.

I only use chains on my plow truck, but they are of a type that can’t be used on paved roads. They would tear them up. I only plow our gravel drive and the gravel road to our house.

I grew up in Chicago. No mountains but certainly ice and snow.

When I went to college in Arizona I was shocked at how bad those who grew-up there were at driving in the snow. I saw one get into a (minor) accident that should have been avoidable (he locked his brakes and lost all control…before anti-lock was a thing).

I was in the car he hit. :slight_smile:

Yeah. While anti-lock helps (some), it does not remove the bad driver from the car. There is this thing called ‘physics’ that many don’t understand. And even the best system can’t save you.

As I recall, Colorado has a citation for “too fast for conditions”. That might apply if a person lost control without proper tires.

I do avoid I70. The roads I mostly drive are two lane mountain highways. 30 years now. I have a number of places that I pull safely of to the side to let people pass me when they start tailgating/driving to fast for conditions. I don’t want these idiots anywhere near me.

Seeing cars in the ditch all the time will do do that.

In CA there are checkpoints on all major roads leading over the Sierra, Siskiyou, and other passes during winter storms, at the snow level. If you dont have chains on or 4wd they turn you around there, no ticket involved. Do they not do that in CO?

I grew up in coastal So Cal. The first time I touched snow I was in college. Prior to that I’d seen it on TV and on distant mountain peaks of course, but had never had the physical experience.

It’s hard for folks who grew up with that garbage to realize how wonderful is a life that has never had snow in it. I just wish I could still say the same about my own life.

I have almost no experience on I70 but I did drive it about three weeks ago and it was not terrible.

I am used to Chicago expressways which are waaaay more clogged.

I find the windy, two-lane roads with rock on one side and certain death 500’ fall on the other far, far more scary to drive on.

Especially since there always seems to be some guy riding your ass no matter how fast you go (certainly pushing well past the speed limit).

In snow…no thanks. I know how to drive in snow but not in mountains and I never want to try.

ETA: I should say the traffic going the other direction for the Memorial Day Holiday was awful bumper-to-bumper coming out of Denver (like Denver to the continental divide). I was going in to Denver and it was fine.

I believe they do. But you really can’t turn around on a divided interstate highway. You have to wait I suppose. But that doesn’t help if they are blocking a lane. Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t.

On eastbound I70, they now have stoplights. No intersection. It’s to make sure people get through the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnel at the top of the pass. They only use the stop lights when the roads are bad.

The problem IMHO, is I’ll equipped bad drivers. Snow/All season tires do nothing for someone that can’t drive. And trucking companies that do not provide their truckers with chains. And, well who would like to put chains on ANY vehicle. It’s not easy.

The road conditions change really, really fast at elevation.

Driving too fast for conditions is a big problem. Often IMHO (again) by tourists trying to not miss their flight.

Yeah the checkpoints on I-80 and I-5 are at interchanges where even a semi can be turned around, and there are usually people there to install/uninstall chains for the clueless, at a price. The gas stations leading up the hill sell chains at a premium, as well. The checkpoints are run bt the gighway dept and supported by the highway patrol.

As a reminder to people, all-season is NOT the same as all-weather. If you do not have the tri-mountain-peak symbol then there is a good chance you’ll be sliding all over the freeway at some point.