Retread I-70 winter driving bill gaining traction

Traffic on snow-covered Interstate 70 in Colorado.

A Senate committee gave its blessing Tuesday afternoon to a bill that would require people driving through snowy, icy mountains to have chains or adequate tire tread.

House Bill 1207 would require that vehicles traveling Interstate 70 from Morrison to Dotsero be equipped with suitable tires or other traction gear for winter conditions from Sept. 1 to May 31.

Passenger vehicles would have to have tire tread that's at least three-16ths of an inch deep or chains in the vehicle.

Spinouts and other accidents are a common reason traffic snarls in the high country. Though it's an interstate, I-70 has high peaks and tough weather for drivers to contend with.

"If you have the expectation of driving through there in the winter, we, as a community, should have the expectation you can handle that kind of driving," said Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, one of the sponsors of the bill.

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The committee voted unanimously to pass the bill on to the full Senate, placing it on the consent calendar, a group of popular bills are voted on as one and usually aren't debated.

If it clears the Senate in an amended version, the House can accept the changes or appoint a committee to work out a compromise both chambers could vote on before the session ends on May 3.

Senate sponsors are still working on enforcement and public education around the bill, however.

The bill has been tried unsuccessfully the last few sessions, usually bogging down on the enforcement question.

"We've always thought enforcement as difficult," said Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale. "We want people to be prepared, but we don't want to have a checkpoint every time you go up the hill."

The Colorado Department of Transportation could do rule-making around traction-control devices as soon as May, Rankin said.

Violating the tire-tread law would be a Class B traffic infraction subject to a $100 fine and a $32 surcharge. If a violation causes a closure of at least one lane of traffic, the penalty would jump to $500 with a $156 surcharge.

The bill passed the House, 46-18, with bipartisan support and opposition on March 11.

Truckers and other professional drivers already are required to meet traction standards, some of the toughest in the nation, said Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents about 650 companies involved in trucking.

"One of the things that's been difficult is that as we've seen traffic increase out there is seeing people not be prepared out there, putting people at risk," said Fulton.

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