Stay Compliant with Chain Laws this Winter Season
Now that winter is in full swing, truckers all across North America are faced with the inevitable truth, chain up season is here. With winter storms becoming more widespread throughout the states, let’s take a look at the chain laws in the U.S. that are beyond “when chains are required, put them on.”
The makeup of California’s landscape is unique, compared to most states. For a majority of the state, chains are never needed. But, within a day a driver can go from 80-degree weather to high elevation mountains that measure snowfall in feet, not inches. And, since most of the state never sees snow, chain laws are more specific as to where they are enforced. There is no official date the state requires you to have chains, but when the weather does hit, you don’t want to be without them. And, you’ll need eight chains to comply with the regulations. Here are the stretches of road you should plan for.
Sections of Northern California, such as:
- Interstate 5 north of Redding
- Highway 50 over Echo Summit between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento
- Interstate 80 over Donner Pass between Sacramento and Reno
Chains Occasionally required on:
- State Route 58 near Tehachapi between Bakersfield and Mojave
- Interstate 5 over Tejon Pass between Los Angeles and Bakersfield
- Interstate 15 over Cajon Pass between Victorville and San Bernardino
With much of the state located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado typically receives massive amounts of snowfall. It’s why Colorado chain laws apply to every single interstate and state highway. Drivers are required to carry four chains when they’re notified by roadside signs. In conditions that require chains, drivers must install all four chains on the outside tires of their drive axles. No chains are needed on trailer tires.
And for truckers passing along Interstate 70, a major trucking route, drivers must meet additional requirements to be compliant. From Sept. 1 through May 31, commercial vehicles must carry chains between mile marker 133 (Dotsero) on I-70, and mile marker 259 (Morrison) to be compliant, regardless of conditions. Colorado is notorious for its variable weather – it could be 70 degrees one day, and 30 degrees and snowing the following day. Failure to comply with chain laws through this stretch of highway may result in a $50 fine plus a $17 surcharge.
Drivers who fail to chain up when the chain law is in effect statewide, may receive at $500 fine, plus a $79 surcharge. And, if a driver blocks a highway with their vehicle as a result of not chaining up when chain laws are in effect, they may receive a $1,000 fine, and a $157 surcharge.
Here’s a state you wouldn’t expect to have specific chain laws. While Georgia, like much of the south, rarely experiences snow or ice storms, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) may require commercial drivers to put on chains during poor weather conditions. If state officials declare “limited access” on highways due to weather, drivers must put on chains on each of the outermost drive tires to continue their route. And, if a driver is responsible for an accident that blocks the flow of traffic and is not compliant with state chain laws, they may be fined up to $1,000.
When conditions require the use of chains, truckers in Idaho need chains on a minimum of one tire on each side of drive axles and on one tire by the rear axle of each trailer.
If Idaho officials determine conditions over Lookout Pass on I-90, or Lolo Pass on Highway 12 are unsafe, chains may be required, regardless of time of year.
Like most of the Northeastern states, chains are permissible in conditions when they are “needed.” That being said, the state does specify that chains may not be used on “improved highways,” unless they are required to ensure the “safety of life or property.”
Chain laws apply to all highways throughout the state, and roadside signs will let you know when you’re required to use them. You’ll need six chains to be compliant.
When it comes to installing the chains, if you operate a tandem-drive axle, you’ll need to place chains on all four tires of the main drive axle. If both axles of the truck you’re driving are powered, you’ll still need four chains, but you don’t need to chain the inside tires. For your trailer, you’ll need two chains, placed on each side of any trailer axle tire.
From Nov. 1 through April 1, truck drivers are required to carry a minimum of five chains while travelling anywhere in the state to be compliant with its chain laws. But, in the event road conditions require the use of more chains, you need to have two “spare” chains with you. There are specific routes where those “spare” chains are required during “chain season,” so it’s worth visiting the Washington State Legislature page to view the details of those routes.
A good rule of thumb while driving this winter is to meet the chain requirements of the state with the strictest chain laws. That way, you’ll never have to worry whether or not you’re carrying enough chains, or if you have the right type of chains. A vast majority of states, in particular, those in the Midwest, south and even in the northeast either don’t require the use of chains, or limit the use of chains.
But, every year, it seems as if winter storms impact areas that typically don’t receive snow. So, it’s a good idea to browse through state laws that you often travel through to get an idea of what to expect. Visit the America Trucking Association Chain Laws page to check out all the laws.