Mitsch Bush hopes to resurrect passenger vehicle traction law for I-70
Steamboat Springs — In the wake of Wednesday’s multi-car pileup on Interstate 70 and with the Colorado State Legislature set to convene for its 71st General Assembly Jan. 11, state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, is hoping three might be a charm in terms of revising and clarifying the state’s winter traction regulations as they apply to passenger vehicles.
In both 2014 and 2015, Mitsch Bush co-sponsored legislation that would have required all passenger vehicles traveling I-70 between mile markers 133 (Dotsero) and 259 (Morrison) from Nov. 1 to May 15 to:
• Be equipped with snow tires having a tread depth of at least 1/8 inch;
• Be equipped with all-season tires imprinted with the symbol “M+S” or M/S” and having a tread depth of at least 1/8 inch; or,
• Carry tire chains or a traction control device in the vehicle at all times.
Mitsch Bush’s bill — co-sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bob Rankin — passed the House of Representatives in 2014 and 2015 with strong, bipartisan support, only to be defeated along party lines in the Senate.
According to Mitsch Bush, stated objections to both bills — objections she described as “really political” — included allegations that the bill would erode individual liberty and undermine individual responsibility.
“That’s like saying requiring drivers to turn on their headlights after dark takes away individual liberty,” Mitsch Bush said Thursday. “And to my mind, clearly laying out what the responsibilities are make those personal responsibilities all the more clear.”
Another objection, raised by Senate Republicans last year, suggested that inclement weather regulations governing passenger vehicles were covered in the existing statute, making the new requirements unnecessary, Mitsch Bush said.
But therein, she said, lies much of the problem.
According to Mitsch Bush, the existing statute isn’t clear and often leaves passenger car drivers wondering how “adequate traction” is statutorily defined and when such requirements must be observed.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation website, CDOT can activate traction and chain laws either through a Code 15 or a Code 16.
A Code 15, according to CDOT, means that “motorists will need to have either snow tires with mud/snow designation (or) a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle” and that “all tires must have a minimum 1/8-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.”
During a Code 16 — the final safety measure to be issued before a road is closed — “every vehicle on the roadway is required to have chains or an alternative traction device,” according to CDOT.
“So, no one has to do anything until a Code 15 is declared, and often, that doesn’t happen until after there have already been accidents and closures,” Mitsch Bush said. “And when a Code 15 is declared, all the signage says is, ‘passenger vehicles must have adequate traction devices.’ What does that even mean? How is someone from out of state going to interpret that?”
Mitsch Bush said simplicity and clarity are key and that revising the law will enable highway officials to create signage informing drivers of what equipment is required and when it must be utilized.
It is not yet known how large a part inadequate traction may have played in Wednesday’s I-70 pileup — which shut down travel in both directions for about three hours and occurred while both a Code 15 and Code 16 were in effect — but based upon past studies, Mitsch Bush suspects it was probably a factor.
“I’m still awaiting data from CDOT as to the extend this (Wednesday’s pileup) was due to passenger vehicles without adequate traction, but I suspect it was (a factor),” she said.
A different approach
This time around, Mitsch Bush is taking a different approach.
“In the past, I tried to keep it short and sweet,” Mitsch Bush said. “I thought it would be easier to pass that way.”
But after two failed attempts, Mitsch Bush is now turning to law enforcement agencies along the mountain corridor of I-70 to help develop a set of comprehensive recommendations about how to simplify and clarify the statute to better address passenger vehicles.
“This year, we’re starting with law enforcement,” she said. “Various agencies along the corridor are working with CDOT to go over each section (of the statute) and clean it up to make it clear when passengers vehicles must have traction equipment.”
Given the broadened scope of the new effort, Mitsch Bush said the result will likely be a much longer bill.
“Every piece of the current statute must be looked at,” she said. “It’s an effort to revamp the entire section. In the end, it probably will be longer, but I think it will also be clearer.”
Though Wednesday’s pileup resulted in no serious injuries, Mitsch Bush said it serves to underscore the frequency with which lengthy closures idle traffic on the state’s primary east-west artery.
“The point is, this is an economic issue and a public safety issue, and it affects mountain towns like ours,” she said. “We have to use I-70 to get back and forth to Denver. … We have no illusions that (the traction law) will prevent all closures, but it will reduce them.”
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