Throwin' iron can be confusing for any new driver, as well as for some seasoned drivers. I personally
time managed my trips during winter. Trying to keep my drive times between 7am and 5pm. A majority
of the passes you deal with are well groomed during these times. But not all trips allow for this type of
planning and throwin' iron is unavoidable.
When chaining up is unavoidable...my first decision before pulling out the iron was based strictly on gut
feeling. If you are not mentally prepared to deal with a pass you should sit it out. There's nothing more
dangerous than an unsure driver negotiating a pass. Confidence and knowing your limits is the key. Any
experienced driver knows that a driver uncertain of his abilities is a hazard to everyone.
Between Nov. 1 and Mar. 31 is the period you need to be aware of chain laws. Penalties for violations can
get expensive. I know a driver that learned the hard way when you're in violation. He was told to park
along side the road beyond the checkpoint because he didn't have chains and was not allowed to proceed.
While he was waiting for the chain requirement to be removed, another officer stopped and asked to see
his chains. He told the officer he had none and was instructed to park where he was. He was told it didn't
matter that he was instructed by police to park where he was and gave him a $500 ticket anyways. Once
you pass the checkpoint you are in violation if you do not have chains on your vehicle.
Putting chains on is a cold and dirty process - so get used to it. Water-proof cover-alls and mud boots are
the ideal clothing to have for chain-ups. It'll make the process a little easier on you and you won't have to
change your cloths when you're done. It'll be the best expense you'll ever make for winter driving
There is no specific process for putting your chains on. Find what works for you by practicing putting
your chains on. I found it to be quicker for me to lay my chains out along side each tire checking for
damage or kinks - damaged chains will put you in violation and improper installation will cause damage. I
would then drape chains over each tire tucking the front-of-the-truck side under the tire. Pulling the truck
forward two feet will give you enough slack to complete your chain-up on all your tires without moving
the truck again. I would use three bungies on each tire - placing them at 12 to 6 o'clock; 2 to 8 o'clock;
and 4 to 10 o'clock positions. This process has worked well for me.
Following is an article by Don and Debbe Morrow from Land Line Magazine's October 2005 issue
providing excellent information about chain laws by state. There is also a Q & A section I found to be
TO CHAIN OR NOT TO CHAIN
States can leave truckers guessing when it comes to traction devices
By Don and Debbe Morrow
OOIDA member contributors
There are about as many chain laws as there are states that expect commercial drivers to use chains. Use
the truck outline below to match up what tires require chains in each state. [ For specific state chain laws click here ]
Tire traction devices are devices or mechanisms capable of improving vehicle traction, braking and
cornering ability on snow or ice-covered surfaces.
Drivers are notified of when to use traction devices by signs along the roadway. There are three levels of
control: R1, R2 and R3. Any of these conditions mean the same thing for a truck driver – stop until
conditions improve, or install your traction devices. Maximum speed limit when chains are required is 25
mph. Trucks with cable chains are legal in California. However, these trucks may be restricted at times,
due to local conditions. Tires requiring chains are A, B, C, D, E, H, M and P.
The California Department of Transportation advises on Interstate 80 over Donner Summit during and just
prior to chain controls going into effect, east bound trucks will be stopped at Applegate, CA, and screened
to make sure they are carrying the correct amount of chains – in the worst weather, eight chains are
required, so it’s best to have at least that number on board.
West bound trucks will be screened in Verdi, NV. Trucks lacking the correct amount of chains will be
ordered to turn around. There is very little or no parking for trucks to be held over at these locations. It is
advised to not even attempt to cross Donner Summit in the winter without having the correct amount of
chains on board. While there are private contract chain installers available during storms, they do not have
chains for sale. So make sure to take the correct amount of chains when leaving your terminal.
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
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 drive wheels. Dual tire chains are acceptable. Chains are not required on trailer axles.
On its Web site, the Colorado Department of Transportation states that drivers of commercial vehicles
who ignore the chain law can be fined $100 for not putting chains on 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
There are two levels of the chain law that will affect commercial vehicles.
Level I – This level of chain law implementation requires that all single axle combination commercial
vehicles chain up. All four wheels of the power drive axle must be chained. Cables are not allowed on
single drive axle combination commercial vehicles as an alternative traction device. When Level I of the
chain law is in effect, all other commercial vehicles must have snow tires or chains. Level I may be
implemented at any time there is snow covering any part of the traveled portion of the pavement on an
Level II – This level requires chains for all commercial vehicles. This includes trucks exceeding 26,001
pounds and buses or vehicles that are designed to carry 16 or more passengers. Autotransports must
comply with the law to the extent possible without causing damage to hydraulic lines. Cables are not
allowed on single drive axle combination units, they must use chains. Level II may be implemented any
time there is snow covering the entire traveled portion of the pavement on an ascending grade or, when in
the discretion of the highway maintenance supervisor, the road, weather or driving conditions make this
restriction necessary for safety or to minimize occurrence of road closures.
Approved alternative traction devices may sometimes be used instead of chains in Colorado. These include
wheel sanders (vehicle must carry enough sand to negotiate the hill), or pneumatically driven chains,
which when engaged, spin under the drive wheels automatically as traction is lost.
The rules allow the use of tire cables on commercial vehicles in two approved situations:
Tire cables constructed with high strength steel spring cross member rollers that are at least 0.415-inch
diameter or greater can be used instead of chains on commercial vehicles with the exception of single drive
axle combination vehicles.
On a tandem power drive axle commercial vehicle any type of cable can be used 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
The Colorado DOT monitors the use of cables and their effectiveness and can at any time rescind the
approval of cables.
Idaho has no chain laws. However, there are times when chains are required. Signs will be posted “Chains
required beyond this point” when the road is snow-covered or icy.
Chains must be used when indicated by signs. Minimum requirement: chain tires on drive wheels of one
Nevada has no specific law for or against cable chains. Chains must be of proper size for your tires.
Approved traction devices are metal, plastic or a combination thereof, and provide additional traction to the
wheels or to slippery surfaces. Drivers are notified of chain up requirements by signs along the roadway:
“When lights are flashing, chains or snow tires required.” Chains may be necessary on northern Nevada
and California mountain passes from mid-October through mid-June. Vehicles more than 10,000 pounds
GVW must use chains on two drive wheels and two braking wheels of the trailer.
It is permissible to use, upon any vehicle, tire chains of reasonable proportions designed to increase
traction on ice or snow when required for safety.
Acceptable chains are line chains, cable chains, or other devices that attach to the wheel, vehicle, or
outside of the tire that are designed to augment traction. The DOT has the discretion to require the use of
link chains only, rather than cable chains, when warranted. Drivers are notified of chain law status by
signs along the roadway. Tires requiring traction devices are A, B, C, D, I and P (any two trailer wheels,
either axle and either side) or A, D, E and H (if both axles are drive axles).
South Dakota highways may be posted restricting traffic to vehicles with chains. Notice of travel
restrictions will be conspicuously signed. No requirements for placement of chains. Use of cables is not
Utah has no specific law that chains must be carried. However, carrying one set of chains for the drive
axle is suggested from Nov. 1 through March 31. Drivers are notified of chain up requirements by signs
along the roadway.
Commercial vehicles must carry chains on many Washington roads from Nov. 1 through April 1. All
vehicles more than 10,000 pounds GVW must carry two extra chains. Cables are approved. Plastic chains
are not approved. Drivers are notified by signs along the roadway. If signs read “approved traction tires
required” or “chains required,” vehicles over 10,000 pounds GVW must use chains. Tires requiring
traction devices are A, B, C, D and P (one tire, either side of trailer) or A, D, E, H and P.
Wyoming travel may be restricted to all-wheel-drive vehicles or motor vehicles equipped with tire chains.
Drivers are notified of “chain law” conditions by highway signs and local radio broadcasts. There are no
specific laws that address the use of cables or the number and placement of chains.
Excerpts from “For the Long Haul” by Don and Debbe Morrow have been used for this article. Don and
Debbe may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information in this column is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all chain laws a trucker will
encounter. Rather, the information in this column is designed to give readers an overview of chain laws
throughout the country.
Getting savvy with the current chain laws is critical - or you may hear some Hy-Po singing that old
By Don and Debbe Morrow
OOIDA member contributors
Even though fall brings some welcome relief from summer’s high temperatures, we all know what comes
next - winter.
And winter for truckers means one thing: You’re probably going to be throwing iron before too much
longer. But throwing iron isn’t as simple as putting chains or cables on when you know you need the
added traction. Throw in all the states’ different laws and things get tricky - quick.
There are several different types of chains, or approved traction devices as they are often referred to in
state regulations and advisories. The two that dominate in actual usage are link chains and cables.
Most of the big carriers use cables for two very good reasons: cables are cheaper; cables are lighter
weight. The drawback to using cables is they are not approved traction devices in all states.
For the purposes of this article, we will refer to both cables and chains as chains unless we specify we are
discussing cables. Here are a few general suggestions that will help in dealing with chains and adverse
What does a driver need to know about chain laws for the winter of 2005-2006?
Question: How many chains do I need?
ANSWER: This varies from state to state, but California expects the most - with up to eight, depending on
conditions. Remember, chains need to be the proper size for your tires and carry extras because inspectors
won’t count broken ones.
Question: Are there certain times of the year that I must carry chains?
ANSWER: Washington is the only state that gives specific dates (Nov. 1 through April 1). Other states
may not give dates, but if road conditions warrant chain use, you will be expected to have them available.
Question: Do I need chains or are other traction devices acceptable?
ANSWER: Link chains are universally accepted as a traction device. Cables have some limitations.
Colorado requires chains only on single axle combination vehicles.
Colorado also allows a combination of chains and cables on trucks with two drive axles. Other states,
such as Oregon and California, accept cables but reserve the right to require “chains only,” depending on
Other traction devices like wheel sanders and pneumatically driven chains are acceptable in some areas but
Question: How am I notified when I need to use chains?
ANSWER: One method of communication is signs along the roadway. Other methods include local radio
and pass boards at local truck stops. Idaho occasionally broadcasts conditions over the CB radio.
Question: Is my road speed limited when I have chains installed?
ANSWER: Yes, no more than 25 mph if the chains are tight. Go slower than 25 mph if the chains are
loose. Chains will loosen up after installation. Plan on stopping shortly after installation to make
Question: People talk about drag chains. What are they talking about?
ANSWER: Drag chains are tire chains used on the trailer tires to enhance braking and control. California,
Oregon and Washington all require drag chains.
Question: Are there different levels of chain laws?
ANSWER: Yes. In California, you will see signs for chain law levels R1, R2 and R3 for trucks. They all
mean the same to a commercial driver - either chain up, or stop and wait for conditions to improve.
In Colorado, a Level I requires single drive axle combination vehicles to chain up. A Level II requires that
all commercial vehicles chain up. Oregon also has different levels, but the requirements on their roadside
signs are very specific. They use plain English and the signs are easy to understand.
Question: Are there other states that have chain laws?
ANSWER: Yes. If you are prepared for the states that we have mentioned, you should be ready for the
Question: Any last suggestions?
ANSWER: Practice installing your chains when the weather is nice. That way, you can work out the bugs
in comfort. Use several bungee straps to keep the chains tight. Always carry extra straps.
Don and Debbe may be reached at email@example.com