5 Things Denver Drivers Need to Know About Winter Driving

We’ve already had our first snow of the season in the Denver area, and by early indications, we may have a strong winter.  Since it has been a few months with lots of days in the 80s and 90s since our last snow, now is a good time to refresh on a couple of winter driving tips to stay safe on the roads and highways this winter. And being that it’s Colorado, winter driving conditions present themselves to Denver drivers three seasons of the year…

1. Colorado has Passenger Vehicle Traction and Chain Laws, Know Them…

winter driving on highway

Did you know that there are separate chain laws and traction laws for commercial vehicles and passenger vehicles, and they may be activated at different times depending on road conditions?

As a passenger vehicle driver, you need to know the Passenger Vehicle Traction Law (code 15) and the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law (code 16).  CDOT explains the laws as:

Traction Law (Code 15)

During an active Traction Law (also known as a Code 15), motorists must have either snow tires, tires with the mud/snow (M+S) designation, or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle. All tires must have a minimum one-eighth inch tread. You can also install chains or an alternative traction device (like AutoSock) to be in compliance with the law if your tires aren’t adequate.

Passenger Vehicle Chain Law (Code 16)

During severe winter storms, CDOT will implement a Passenger Vehicle Chain Law (also known as a Code 16). This is the final safety measure before the highway is closed.

When the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law is in effect, every vehicle on the roadway must have chains or an alternative traction device (like AutoSock).

2. Have Adequate Tires

tire treadMany Colorado drivers have all-season tires, or switch out their tires for snow tires each fall.  Depending on your lifestyle and commute, you may want to select a tire that will perform better for winter driving.  If you drive in the foothills mountains for your commute, dealing with steep canyon roads, or enjoy winter sports and must travel I-70, these snow tires or all-season tires with a mud and snow rating will be required when a Passenger Vehicle Traction Law is active.

Whether you have street tires on an AWD or 4WD vehicle, snow tires, or all season tires with the mud and snow designation, they will not work properly if they are worn down and do not have adequate tread.  The traction law requires that you have a minimum of 1/8tread or more tread depth on all part of your tire surface.

You can check your tread by doing the Quarter test. Hold the quarter upside down inserted in the low parts of the tread.  If you can see the top of George Washington’s head, your tires have less than 1/8” tread remaining, and the tires need to be replaced before driving in snowy and wet conditions, as their traction is deprecated from wear. The tires need to be replaced for safe winter driving and to avoid tickets and fines during a traction law.

3. Stopping distances are longer on snowy roads

As Denver drivers have migrated here from all over the country it is a good reminder that stopping distances are longer in winter driving conditions.  In an infographic by Operation TireSafe, even with all-season tires or winter tires, stopping distances from 60 MPH were significantly longer on snowy pavement than dry pavement.  When the roads get snowy, even if you have snow or all-season tires, it is necessary to give more space between you and the car in front of you, or reduce your speed to safely handle your vehicle in the snowy conditions.

4. Have Chains or a Traction Device for Driving in Severe Storms

During severe storms, and just prior to a highway closure, the Passenger Vehicle Traction Law may be activated. This requires passenger vehicles to have chains or an alternative traction device like an AutoSock. An AutoSock is a newer alternative for passenger vehicles developed in Norway, which consists of a patterned material and sized specifically for your tire specifications to provide traction, with the advantages of being easier to put on, and less weight and bulk sitting in your vehicle. As described in a Mens Journal article, republished on autosock.com, they explained to “Use them like you’d use chains — at max speeds of 30 mph, and only in icy and snowy conditions you can’t navigate with tires alone. Run on asphalt, they’ll wear out fast.”  They’re approved and legal to use in Colorado when Traction Laws are activated.

5 – Know Winter Driving Conditions Before You Go – Call the Traveler Information System

Dog Phone Telpehone

CDOT maintains the Colorado 511 Traveler Information System with information about road conditions, closures, travel times, and when traction laws are in effect. Dial 511 or save the number 303-639-1111 in your contacts to call before you leave.  If you know the winter road conditions before you leave, you have the ability to stay put and wait for conditions to improve, before driving.  Remember, if your vehicle is not adequate when there is a passenger vehicle traction law in effect, or do not have chains or AutoSock when a chain law is in effect, there is no “limp home” provision, allowing you to drive in winter conditions without the necessary provisions:

There is no “limp home” provision under either law. If you do not have the proper equipment during either law, you can be fined and restricted from the roadway for not only your safety, but also the safety of those around you. The best thing to do is make sure you have safe tires for winter driving and carry chains or an alternative traction device (like an AutoSock) in your vehicle at all times.

Safe winter driving!

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