Bill requiring snow tires, chains clears Senate panel

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All motorists traveling Interstate 70 over the mountains would be required to have adequate tires or chains under a bill that won approval in a Senate committee on Thursday.

The measure, HB1173, is designed to help alleviate traffic slowdowns and accidents during the winter months by making sure people who travel the roadway are prepared to drive it, said its Senate sponsor, Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Denver.

Under the bill, passenger vehicles would have to have mountain-snowflake tires with a tread depth of at least one-eighth of an inch, have a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle with regular tires with at least one-eighth of an inch of tread depth, or carry tire chains or an equivalent traction device.

If they don’t, the motorists could be subject to fines of up to $500 if their violations cause a closure to a traffic lane.

“The winter beauty and recreational opportunities and positive economic opportunities along I-70 can be very frustrating,” Todd told the Senate Transportation Committee, which approved the bill on a 5-0 vote. “One of the biggest factors is the ... lack of understanding of proper winter traction.”

Regardless of that unanimous vote, Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, said he had some reservations about the measure.

Baumgardner, whose district includes a section of the interstate impacted by the bill, said he thought some provisions were too vague, saying it wasn’t clear when a motorist should have chains on, or when the Colorado State Patrol would have the authority to ticket a driver over it.

Baumgardner was the only person during the hearing who expressed any reservations about the proposal.

Several others testified in favor of it, including the State Patrol, the Colorado Department of Transportation, trucking companies, ski resorts and the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association.

Those witnesses said the measure does not impose new fines nor raise existing ones, doesn’t create new checkpoints of motorists, and only applies on the interstate between Dotsero and Morrison.

It does, however, allow state troopers to use their discretion over when conditions are ripe to require chains or adequate tires, rather than waiting for CDOT to declare a “snow emergency,” kicking in existing chain laws.

The measure, which Reps. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, got through the House last month on a 43-21 vote, heads to the full Senate for more debate.

Charles Ashby is the legislative reporter for The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction.

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