Chain law update 2001

by Donna Carlson, staff writer

For over-the-road truckers, wintertime tenders a mixed bag of tricks when it comes to road conditions. Both weather and seasonal equipment laws vary from state to state. Here is Land Line’s annual update of current chain laws and how/where to find weather and road advisories.

This state’s weather conditions vary greatly by region and the chain law gets a bit complicated when it comes to commercial vehicles. As for cables, the state doesn’t prohibit cables, but according to the Interstate 80 Dist. 3 Maintenance Department, the state expects CMVs to be equipped with steel chains if the weather warrants it. In other words, if a trooper thinks you are blocking traffic because you’re not carrying chains, you’ll probably get a ticket. Questions about chain laws should be directed to the California Department of Transportation road service at (916) 445-7623. For more information on how to chain-up in California go to http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo/chcontrl.htm or call 1-800-427-7623.

For those with connections to the World Wide Web, there are a number of good sites to watch weather conditions across the United States and Canada. Here are some favorite listings.

www.intellicast.com their DriveCast feature is a must for route conditions

http://www.wunderground.com gives weather forecasts in both standard and metric and is broadcast in more than 50


http://weather.lycos.com for a quick summary of national weather conditions

http://www.earthwatch.com has a My-Cast feature that customizes the weather forecast you require.

http://www.weather.com features top stories and seasonal links as well as weather.

http://www.ontarioweather.com gives regional forecasts for Canada and has a unique time zone feature.

http://www.nws.noaa.gov offers links to weather by regions in both English and Spanish.

Oregon chain/cable laws apply to all highways within the state. The Oregon Department of Transportation suggests drivers of commercial rigs contact an ODOT Port of Entry before entering the state as highways are subject to conditional road closures. Information on chain requirements, road conditions and weather are listed on the ODOT Internet site at www.tripcheck.com or call 1-800-977-6368 inside the state or (541) 452-4344 (southern half).

The basic ODOT law says a tandem-drive axle truck towing a two- or three-axle trailer shall have chains on at least two tires on each side of the primary drive axle, one tire of the front axle of the trailer and one tire on one of the rear axles of the trailer. A tandem-drive axle truck tractor towing a semi-trailer shall have chains on at least two tires on each side of the primary drive axle and two tires on either side of either axle on the trailer.

Washington’s chain laws are specific and complicated. The number of chains truckers are required to carry depend on the number of drive axles. CMVs must have at least two side chains of hardened metal so at least one cross-chain is in contact with the road surface at all times when in use. Plastic chains are not allowed, but cable chains are okay.

Rules for using tire chains

  • Do not deflate tire to install tire chains.
  • Make sure your tire chains are properly sized. Proper fit is the key to performance.
  • Never use tire chain for towing purposes.
  • Pull off highway to a safe place to install or remove tire chains.
  • Apply as tightly as possible by hand, drive one-quarter mile, stop and check chains.
  • Carry rubber adjuster to keep chains snug to tight.
  • Do not exceed 30 mph while using chains.

WADOT suggests giving Motor Carrier Services a call at (360) 753-0350 if you’re confused about chain-up requirements. Commercial motor vehicles must carry chains from Nov. 1 to April 1 on certain routes. If you have access to a fax machine, the department will fax the routes to you or read them over the phone. Mountain pass reports operate on the DOT web site from Oct. 15 through April 15 each year. Access the reports at http://traffic.wsdot.wa.gov/sno-info/mainframe.htm.

Colorado chain law applies to every state highway, federal highway and interstate throughout the state. When the chain law is in effect, drivers will see signs along the roadway indicating which vehicles should chain up. In some areas of the state, lighted variable message signs also will alert drivers of the chain-up information. 

Metal chains must consist of two circular metal loops, one on each side of the tire, connected by not less than nine evenly spaced chains across the tread. Commercial vehicles having four or more drive wheels must chain four wheels. Dual tire chains are acceptable. Colorado has no rule or statute regarding the requirement for chains on trailers. 

Tire cables are acceptable for use on trailer tires. On a tandem power-drive axle, a commercial vehicle may use any type of cable only if there are chains on the outside tires of one of the power drive axles and cables on two or more tires of the other power-drive axle. 

There are two levels of the chain law in Colorado that will affect commercial vehicles. Level I requires all CMVs over 26,001 lbs. to carry chains. When a Level II warning is in effect, all commercial vehicles must chain-up.

New Penalties: Drivers of commercial vehicles who ignore the Colorado chain law can be fined $100 for failing to chain their vehicles when required. A driver can be fined $500 plus a $60 surcharge if the vehicle is not chained when the law is in effect and as a result blocks the highway. More information is available on the web at www.cotrip.org or call (303) 639-1111.

Nevada is very particular in their treatment of CMVs when it comes to chaining under winter snow conditions. If chain signs are posted and a tractor-trailer is more than 10,001 lbs., it must chain-up. The Nevada Highway Patrol reminds truckers to carry the right size chains for the job. The NHP checks and will ticket a driver trying to slip by with the wrong size.

Nevada has no specific law on the books regarding the use of cables. Currently, Nevada requires you to carry chains for at least two wheels of a drive axle and two braking wheels of a trailer. Call for road conditions any time of year at (877) 687-6237 or tune into radio station 530 AM for weather information when in the Reno area.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol may place a restriction to travel on certain highways during periods of inclement weather. This possible restriction passes for their chain law. This is generally noted by highway signs and broadcasts over local radio stations. The Wyoming HP also updates conditions on the Interstate 80 summit via a web site. Watch live weather broadcasts at http://wydotweb.state.wy.us/web/highway/summit.html.

Wyoming Road and Travel continually updates existing road conditions including the imposing and lifting of the chain law, and can be contacted at the following numbers:

Toll free within Wyoming: 888-WYO-ROAD (1-888-996-7623) outside Wyoming: (307) 772-0824 or online: www.crh.noaa.gov/riw/index.htm.

Michigan is the one state with a chain law that makes it illegal for CMVs to use chains or cables on state roads if the chain touches the road’s surface. The Michigan State Police caution that this means the road must have a snow-packed surface before chaining-up even in the Upper Peninsula. If you are online, go to http://www.mdot.state.mi.us/roads/ for up-to-the-minute information on weather and travel throughout the state. Or, truckers can call the National Weather Service Forecast line (inside or outside the state) at (517) 321-7576.

Chain laws in Ohio are set up under their studded tire rules. Commercial vehicles are permitted to use chains during the period from Nov. 1 to April 15, or “within the proximity of extreme weather conditions.” There is no reference to the use of cables in Ohio regulations. The Ohio Highway Patrol suggests truckers call their hotline at 1-888-264-7623 for road and weather updates, or go online at http://www.odotonline.org/otis/

States without a specific chain law

Arizona’s Highway Patrol says the state has no clear-cut chain law on the books. They are neither prohibited nor required. The Arizona Department of Transportation says if weather turns stormy in certain mountain areas (such as along Interstate 40), a chain requirement is up to the discretion of the officer on duty. Truckers with questions about where to chain or if cables are okay may call the duty office at (602) 223-2212 or for travel or road conditions call 1-888-411-7623 and enter the highway number.

Idaho doesn’t require commercial motor vehicles to carry chains or cables. According to the Idaho Motor Carrier Department, the precedent is to shut down the roads under bad conditions. Whether or not to carry chains is at the driver’s discretion. Truckers traveling in the west can call 1-888-432-7623 and select the option that applies to their travel route.

Utah does not have a chain law. If a particular road becomes snow packed enough to require chains, a notice will be posted and you either have to chain-up or have them on the truck. Call the winter hotline at (801) 964-6000 within the Salt Lake area.

Montana has no chain law for big rigs, however, a spokesman for the Montana Highway Patrol said “a trucker will not be ticketed for failing to carry chains, but if the rig causes an accident or blocks the road in a posted area, they will be fined.” Call 1-800-226-7623 for road conditions.

North Dakota has no chain law on the books. In rough weather, truckers requiring road updates can access conditions throughout the state on the web at http://www.state.nd.us/dot/road.html or call (701) 328-7623.

South Dakota has no actual chain law. If SD is in your routing plans, the Department of Transportation provides a regional road condition report by phone. Sioux Falls: (605) 367-5707, Aberdeen: (605) 626-2282, Rapid City: (605) 394-2255, Pierre: (605) 773-7515.

UPDATE: The telephone number for road conditions for the entire state is 511.

No chain laws in Minnesota. This state does see some pretty rough winter weather and the DOT suggests that if you plan to roll through this state, it’s a good idea for truckers to call the weather hotline number at 1-800-542-0220. The “hands-free” menu allows you to simply answer yes to hear information about your travel area by mile marker or highway number.

Iowa has no law on the books regarding chains or cables for CMVs. Truckers can call 1-800-288-1047 for weather or road conditions within the state or (515) 288-1047 outside the state. Their Winter Road Conditions Map is online from Nov.15 to April 15. It can be accessed on the web at http://www.earthsat.com/iowa/winter.html.

Illinois vehicles are not allowed to use any type of traction device on the interstates. The National Weather Service provides a weather map for Illinois on the Internet at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lot/ or for up-to-date road conditions call 1-800-452-4368 for downstate interstates, 1-800-865-5394 for tollways and (312) 368-4636 for the Chicago area.

Wisconsin, a state with its share of bad winter weather and slick roads, has no chain law for commercial vehicles. The state patrol doesn’t prohibit them either. Troopers say they will tolerate chain or cable use if it’s a really serious ice or snowstorm, but prefer truckers “stop until weather clears.” After Nov. 1, 1-800-762-3947 is activated for road conditions.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation says neither chains nor cables are mandatory in the state. The only time chains are required is if a truck is traveling on a route designated for snow emergencies. PennDOT has an informative web site at http://www.dot.state.pa.us/. Click on traveler information and select the road video, road surface or weather report feature. Truckers may also call 1-888-783-6783 inside the state or (717) 783-5186 outside.

New Jersey hasn’t updated their chain law since 1937. Truckers can use chains/cables, but the DOT says according to the old law, just make sure that “the use of chains does not endanger life, limb or public property.” New Jersey mans a hotline during emergency weather conditions only at (609) 530-3720 or go to www.fhwa.dot.gov/trafficinfo/nj.htm.

New York’s office of Motor Carrier Safety says it’s up to each municipality as to whether chains are needed. There is no chain or cable requirement on the state books for CMVs. The State Police say truckers may call 1-800-THRU-WAY (847-8929) for road conditions.

Vermont state police say winter road reports mostly are for ski conditions but they may help truckers too. Conditions can be accessed at http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/vt/state.html, or call 1-800-VERMONT or (802) 229-0531 when in Vermont.

Maine has no specific chain law. The state offers 24-hour zone forecasts and current conditions updated through their satellite downlink. Severe weather warnings are updated every 15 minutes. The web site address is http://www.state.me.us/mema/weather_index.htm. For a seasonal recorded message on road conditions call (207) 287-3427.