Bottom Line
The Traction Faction
Here’s our 2007 winter chain advisory

By Jami Jones
senior editor


Like so many other things trucking, chain laws are a patchwork of inconsistency and ambiguity around the country.

When some states like Michigan expect you to know the wear rate of standard studded tires before putting on chains and others like California have route-specific regs, it makes it almost impossible to know what’s going on state to state and whether you are legal.

Truckers who run in areas that may require them to throw iron probably feel like they need to keep a secret decoder ring, high-end engineer-level measuring devices and maybe even a Magic 8 Ball.   

Here’s what you really need. The following is a roundup of various state laws around the country pertaining to chains and cables. When it doubt, it’s always best to quiz the cops at the chicken coops or call the state.



California does not require trucks to carry chains during any specified time period. When the weather hits, though, it takes at least eight chains for a standard tractor-trailer configuration to comply with the regulations in order to proceed.

Chains or cables?

Conventional tire chains and cable chains, as well as other less conventional devices such as “Spikes Spyder” are permitted. Trucks with cable-type chains are legal, but may be restricted at times because of conditions – which can happen commonly in the higher elevations.


Eight total. A, B, C, D, E and H on the tractor. Then, you have options on the placement of the two more required chains on the trailer axles. Chains can be placed on the outside of either axle or even staggered in placement with one set of chains on the outside of one axle and the second set on the outside of the other axle.

Route specific

Chains are most often required in the higher mountain passes of northern California, such as:

Interstate 5 north of Redding,
Interstate 80 over Donner Pass between Sacramento and Reno, NV, and
U.S. Highway 50 over Echo Summit between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento.
Chains are also sometimes required on:
State Route 58 near Tehachapi between Bakersfield and Mojave,
Interstate 15 over Cajon Pass between Victorville and San Bernardino, and
Interstate 5 over Tejon Pass between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
However, snow can fall unseasonably at higher elevations at many locations within California. Chains may be required at any time at these higher elevations when conditions warrant.


Colorado’s chain law applies to every state highway, federal highway and interstate throughout the state. The chain law is in effect when drivers are notified by roadside signs. Truckers will need four chains in order to be in compliance when it’s time to throw iron. There is no requirement to carry extra chains or cables.

There are two levels of the chain law:

Level 1, Code 17 – Single drive axle, combination commercial vehicles must chain up all four drive tires. Cables are not allowed in this instance.

Level 2, Code 18 – Chains are required for all commercial vehicles. Outside tires of drive axles must have chains. Inside tires may have cables.

Chains or cables?

Chains, as well as wheel sanders – which carry enough sand to negotiate a hill – and pneumatically driven chains are allowed. Cables are allowed in some scenarios.


Four total. A, B, C, D or E, F, G, H

When in effect, all four tires on either one of the drive axles must be chained or cabled. Chains must be used on the outside tires and cables are permitted on the inside tires. Chains are not required on trailers.


Cables and chains are only permitted from Nov. 15 through April 30. No minimum number of chains is outlined in the regulations.


There is no chain law in Idaho. A spokeswoman with the Idaho State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division said that the State Police do, however, strongly encourage truckers to carry chains for inclement weather. Because there is no definition on the books of approved traction devices, you’re good to go with either chains or cables.


There are no specific dates for the use of tire chains or how many must be used. However, the state is pretty specific about the type of chains that are permitted.

Here’s the exact language from the Kentucky statute: “Where chains are used on rubber-tired vehicles, the cross chains shall be not more than three-fourths (3/4) of an inch in thickness or diameter, and shall be spaced not more than 10 inches apart, around the circumference of the tires.”


Chains may be required in Maryland if a snow emergency is declared. There is no regulation outlining how many chains would be required.


Get a load of this regulation: “Studs or other traction devices shall not be used unless they wear either concrete or asphalt pavements, typical of those in this state, at a rate not to exceed 25 percent of the reference standard studded tire.”

Do what? Like that wear measurement is a readily known factoid engrained in everyone’s brain.

What you really need to know is traction devices are only permitted between Nov. 15 and April 1, except in the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula, where, because of extreme winter snow and ice conditions, they may be used between Oct. 1 and May 1.


There is no specific time frame for a chain law to be in effect in Montana. The laws go into effect when roadside signs tell all drivers to chain up. So, for a dual axle tractor, it will mean keeping four on hand for when the law is in effect.

Chains or cables?

Montana is like Idaho, there are no specific restrictions on approved traction devices.


Four total. A, D, E, and H


There aren’t specific dates for chain laws to be in effect. Again, roadside signs will let you know when chaining up is required. In Nevada, truckers will need to keep four chains on hand to comply when the signs say so.

Chains or cables?

Cable-type chains are not prohibited, but trucks using them may be restricted at times because of conditions.


Four total. There are several legal configurations.

A, D, M and P;
B, C, M and P;
E, H, M and P; or
F, G, M and P

Basically, Nevada requires you to chain two tires, inside or out, on one drive axle and the outside of the trailer-braking axle.

New Jersey

New Jersey goes a little beyond the standard “chains are permitted when needed” directive. The state allows chains of reasonable proportions when roads, streets and highways are slippery, because of rain, snow, ice, oil, manner of construction or other reason.

However, “no chains shall be used at any time on improved highways when highway conditions do not make such use necessary for the safety of life or property.” Also, New Jersey prohibits the use of chains “likely to be thrown so as to endanger any person or property.”

Like you would want your truck and trailer torn to shreds by a broken chain.

New Mexico

There are no requirements to use chains or times when the roadside signs will read that it’s time to chain up. But, if you choose to use chains or cables, just make sure they are of “reasonable” proportions.


Oregon’s law applies to all highways in the state. Signs will tell you when you are required to carry chains and when you are required to use them. You will need to have six chains on hand to comply in Oregon.

Chains or cables?

Chains include link chains, cable chains or any other device the attaches to the wheel.


Again, you have a few options on what tires you are required to chain: A, D, E, H or E, F, G and H on the tractor if both axles are powered by the driveline. On the trailer, you must chain two tires, one on each side of any axle. They can be staggered or on the same axle.


Despite published reports, Lt. Anthony J. Sivo, commander of the Pennsylvania State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, said there is no law mandating truckers carry chains or use them. Truckers, however, are permitted to use chains when roads are covered with snow and ice.

South Dakota

There is no chain law to speak of in South Dakota. However, the state DOT has the authority to restrict travel on roads. Signs will alert you to these restrictions. Tire chains or “sufficient traction devices” are allowed.


The only requirement involving tire chains in the Volunteer State is that every truck “likely to encounter” conditions requiring chains carry one set.


Not much to this one. Utah only requires tire chains where posted. The chains should have “minimum traction.”



Chains must be carried Nov. 1 through April 1. It takes five sets to comply with the chaining requirement. However, all vehicles over 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight must carry two extra chains for use in the event that road conditions require the use of more chains or in the event that chains in use are broken or otherwise made useless.

Chains or cables?

Chains must have two sides attached with cross-sections. Cables can be permitted. Plastic chains are prohibited.


Five total, A, D, E, H and P or M.

Route specific

On the following routes all vehicles and combinations of vehicles over 10,000 pounds shall carry sufficient tire chains to meet the requirements:

I-90 between North Bend (MM 32) and Ellensburg (MM 101)
I-82 between Ellensburg Exit 3 (MM 3.00) and Selah Exit 26 (MM 26.00)
SR-97 between (MM 145) and Junction SR-2
SR-2 between Dryden (MM 108) and Index (MM 36)
SR-12 between Packwood (MM 135) and Naches (MM 187)
SR-97 between Junction SR-14 (MM 4) Columbia River and Toppenish (MM 59)
SR-410 from Enumclaw to Naches
SR-20 between Tonasket (MM 262) and Kettle Falls (MM 342)
SR-155 between Omak (MM 79) and Nespelem (MM 45)
SR-970 between (MM 0) and (MM 10)
SR-14 (MM 18) to Junction 97 (MM 102)
SR-542 Mount Baker Highway between (MM 22.91) and (MM 57.26)



The Wyoming law is pretty basic and simply allows for travel to be restricted and you’ll be notified by signs. There is no requirement on how many chains must be used in order to comply. The regulations list tire chains or “sufficient traction devices” as approved devices.