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Safe Winter Driving: Understanding Colorado's Traction Law and Passenger Vehicle Chain Law

Editor's note: We originally published this blog last winter, but we've received some requests to publish it again. Be safe out there, everyone!

As Colorado residents and visitors know, I-70, Highway 6 (Loveland Pass) and other Colorado mountain highways can get pretty hairy (or even close) when a big storm hits. The Colorado Department of Transportation has started enforcing some new laws this year to keep drivers safe and keep traffic moving.

We want to help you stay safe out there by sharing some tips and resources to use on those snowy days. One of the new laws this year being implemented by CDOT is the Traction Law (Code 15). This law is typically active on I-70 when the roads are icy/snowy and when visibility is poor. During an active Traction Law, all motorists on the road need to have either snow tires, tires with the mud/snow designation (normally written on the sidewall of the tire as “M+S” or “M&S”) or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle. All tires on all vehicles must also have a minimum of one-eighth inch tread. You can also install chains or an alternative traction device (like an AutoSock) to be in compliance with the law. You can easily find out if your tires meet the minimum tread by taking the Quarter Test!

The next step up from the Traction Law is the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law (Code 16). This is typically the very last safety measure before the highway is closed, so the roads must be VERY bad if this law is in effect. During an active Passenger Vehicle Chain Law, every single vehicle on the highway is required to have chains or an alternative traction device (like an AutoSock). This law is very rarely put into effect — it’s more common that the roads will simply be closed — but if it’s put into effect and you don’t have these devices on your car, you will be in violation of the law.

Also, keep in mind that if you do not have the proper tires/traction devices in place, you could face the following fines:

  • Motorists driving with inadequate equipment during a Traction Law or Passenger Vehicle Chain Law could be fined more than $130.
  • If a motorist blocks the roadway because they have inadequate equipment during a Traction Law or Passenger Vehicle Chain Law, they could be fined more than $650.

(Click here to print or download a one-page fact sheet on Colorado’s Traction Law and Passenger Vehicle Chain Law.)

So — are your tires ready for driving in the mountains this winter? Consider getting yourself some snow tires so that you don’t need to worry about the traction law! All-season tires with the mud/snow designation just don’t compare to true winter tires, and investing in safety will help you make sure you make it to Summit County to hit the best powder. Chances are, if there is a traction law in effect, that means the snow is awesome ... and you don’t want to miss out because you aren’t prepared for the drive! The State of Colorado is even partnering with tire retailers throughout the state to make snow tires more affordable.

To make sure you’re aware when the Traction Law and the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law are in effect, we recommend signing up for email and/or text notifications from COtrip. Motorists will also be alerted by highway signage, so keep an eye out when you hit the road! Another resource we love to use before getting on the highway is the travel alerts and road conditions sections of the COtrip website. The interactive map will show you road conditions and speeds on numerous roads and highways throughout the state to help you better plan your trip. You can also dial 511 on any phone to hear up-to-date alerts

Just remember: The more prepared you are, the more powder you get!