Caution: New winter driving bill approaching

Motorists who play Russian roulette with bald tires may want to think twice if they plan to drive on the mountainous portions of I-70 during snowstorms.

Wednesday, Reps. Diane Mitsch-Bush, a Democrat from Steamboat Springs, and Republican Bob Rankin of Carbondale, will ask the House Transportation and Energy Committee for approval on a bill that would require most motorists to chain up or make sure their vehicles are road-worthy on portions of I-70.

House Bill 16-1039 is a follow-up to one last year that flatted out over objections from Senate Republicans, who watered it down from a law that would required motorists to chain up, to launching a study of I-70 winter driving safety.

That study was completed over the summer, and Mitsch-Bush and Rankin are taking their latest version out for a drive this afternoon.

The bill affects the same portion of I-70 for passenger vehicles as it does for heavy-duty trucks and semis: between Dotsero, in western Eagle County, and Idaho Springs.

Currently, the state Department of Transportation can alert motorists when weather conditions become hazardous. It’s called a Code 15. CDOT can only advise motorists to have adequate snow tires or chains, not require it. However, if a vehicle gets into an accident or even just a spin-out under a Code 15, the driver can be ticketed if the State Patrol determines the vehicle didn’t have adequate tires or chains. That can amount to up to a $500 fine.

Under the bill, motorists would be required to have the appropriate traction gear as soon as weather conditions begin to deteriorate, and would be notified via CDOT signage on the interstate.

Mitsch-Bush said this week the bill will be amended to state that it is not the General Assembly’s intent that the State Patrol or CDOT set up checkpoints to enforce the law. But as with a Code 15, those who fail to heed the law could be ticketed and fined if they cause an accident or block a lane after a spin-out.

The bill has the support of both CDOT and the State Patrol.

A CDOT spokesman said this week that the department “has gone as far as it can in helping motorists understand the importance of driving safely along this corridor during the winter.” But unless cars are required by law to have traction control devices prior to driving into the mountains in bad weather, vehicles will continue to spin out, block traffic and cause delays.

As CDOT tells it, “The end result of this bill is the same as any other driving safety bill passed by the legislature: safer roads for all.”

HB 1039 will be heard at 1:30 p.m. today.

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.