Winter Driving Tips
Know Before You Go: Transportation Tips & Tricks
Travel in the high country can be tricky to navigate if you’re arriving from warmer climates, so we’ve compiled the details you’ll need to prepare for a safe journey. Keep in mind that conditions and regulations change as rapidly as the seasons, and because of that you’ll want to bookmark cotrip.org on your browser for the most current rules and updates.
What is a Traction Law?
When weather conditions require, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) may implement special laws called traction laws. You can sign up to receive alerts via text message during your stay by visiting cotrip.org or simply bookmark the site to stay up to date with conditions as things change.
During an active period of Traction Law, vehicles are required to have either snow tires, mud + snow tires or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle. But, just having these types of tires is not enough! They are required to also meet a minimum tread requirement of one-eighth inch depth. Chains or other traction devices may also be used to be in compliance with traction law if the tires on your vehicle do not meet the standard requirements.
Measuring Your Tire Tread
Q: How do you know if your tires meet the one-eighth inch tread depth? Are you expected to carry a ruler?A: Nope! As long as you have some pocket change, you’ll be able to check your tread depth. Here’s how:
The Quarter Test
Step 1: Insert a quarter into the tire tread upside down, with Washington’s head going in first. Complete this test in a few different spots around each tire.
Tread is OK: If the top of George’s head is covered by the tread, you’re ready to roll.
Tread is NOT OK: If the top of George’s head is visible at ANY POINT around the tire, your tires don’t meet the Traction Law requirements.
Super Snowy Days and the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law
During severe winter storms, CDOT will elevate road safety requirements to a Passenger Vehicle Chain Law, which is the last measure before the highway is closed to through traffic.
When the weather is so severe, we first recommend that you stay put as long as possible – enjoy a meal at a local restaurant or find another warm place to relax before leaving town. Or, if you are able, extend your stay with us and wait out the storm! If staying a few hours or an extra night is not an option, you’ll want to be sure to adhere to the regulations on the road and take your time to drive safely.
When the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law is in effect, every vehicle on the road – even four-wheel/all-wheel drive – must have chains or another traction device.
Know How Around the Plow
A big part of motorist safety here in Colorado includes the work of snow plow crews. These hearty souls work around the clock to keep our roads clear and driveable during winter conditions. If you see a plow on the road, keep in mind the considerations outlined below to ensure yours – and everyone else’s – safety on the road.
Can’t See? Don’t Pass!
This is a good rule anytime, but especially in winter conditions. When plows are working in rough conditions, passing is never recommended. Attempting to pass a plow could mean you face white out conditions around the other side, or that you encounter an unexpected vehicle around the bend, creating a very dangerous situation for everyone on the road.
Give the Plow Room to Work
Plows will frequently distribute de-icer and sand to help create better traction on the roads, so be sure to stay back three to four car lengths behind the plow. If you’re too close, the dropping de-icer or sand could hit your car and crack your windshield. Plus, you never know when a plow might suddenly need to stop – and you’ll want to make sure you have room to do the same without causing an accident.
Only Pass on the LEFT!
Plows are designed to push snow and debris off to the right shoulder of the road, so passing on the left is your best and only option… But as we mentioned above, only do so when you are 100% certain it is safe to do so! Passing during blizzard conditions or on winding roads is never recommended.
What’s That Stuff on the Road?
We often receive questions about what is used on the roads here to help with traction. Here’s a quick overview of anti-icing and de-icing products used here in Colorado:
First, it is important to note that Colorado is on the leading edge of snow removal products, as the state strives to utilize products that will minimize damage to vehicles, roads and the environment. Each of the products used are environmentally friendly!
De-icers dissolve downward into the snow and penetrate through to the road surface with a goal of keeping the roads clear and ice free. These products also help to break up the snow, making it easier for plows to clear it away.
Anti-icing mixes are applied before storms and look like white stripes on the roadway. The mix used by CDOT contains a corrosion inhibitor to help prevent damage to vehicles and infrastructure. Once the snow begins to fall or the temperature drops below freezing, crews stop using anti-icing mixes and switch over to the de-icers listed below.
Magnesium chloride is a de-icer used when the pavement temperature is above 16 degrees (think Fall and Spring).
Cold Temperature Magnesium Chloride is used when the temperature dips below 16 degrees, and contains a corn bi-product to help lower the freezing point of the material.
APEX is a magnesium chloride based product used when the pavement temperature is above -4 degrees, and can substitute for regular and cold temperature magnesium chloride.
And lastly, the solid de-icers! These bad boys of traction can be used in both anti-icing and de-icing applications and include an Ice Slicer made of granular salt and magnesium chloride and a Salt/Sand Mixture which is that brown slush you’ll typically see on the roads at higher elevations like here in Breckenridge, where colder conditions exist and more traction is needed.
So, there you have it: winter driving in a nutshell! But really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. For more details and a whole host of frequently asked questions, we encourage you to visit cotrip.org or codot.gov for everything you’ll need to know for a safe journey.