Tire chains a necessary evil in California | SierraSun.com
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Tire chains a necessary evil in California

While it may be a nuisance to pull over during a treacherous Sierra storm to install tire chains, motorists take for granted the state law that allows them to drive with metal chains and cables on their vehicle’s tires.

While restricted in some states, including Vermont, Michigan and Ohio, California authorizes the use of tire chains on the theory that the safety and security of motorists outweighs the inconvenience and potential harm to roadways.

California is on the forefront in traffic safety, and chain control laws are just one example of this effort to increase driver protection, said spokeswoman Cynthia Harris of the American Automobile Association of Northern California.



Harris said despite the damage chains cause to California roads, avoiding accidents offsets any roadway wear and tear.

“Roads are damaged year-round and whatever damage is done, it can be repaired,” she said. “It’s more important to be safe.”



While most states do not require drivers to chain up under even the worst weather circumstance, California has a reputation for its aggressive chain requirements, said CalTrans spokeswoman Shelly Chernicki.

Chernicki said because Sierra snow is more saturated and therefore heavier than snowfall in the Northeast United States, chain controls are a must in this region.

Additionally, vehicles traveling over California’s mountain passes must climb steep upgrades into high elevations ” unlike their East Coast counterparts.

“The snow out west and the snow in the east are two totally different things,” said Legislative Coordinator Chauncey Liese of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Vermont. “It’s like apples and oranges comparing the two.”

Liese said many of the area’s mountain passes that would be treacherous are closed for the winter. He said although discussions have been held on requiring large commercial vehicles to carry chains in Vermont, the state legislature has adopted no statute spelling out the policy.

The cost to construct chain installment areas on Vermont highways has prohibited the state from pursuing such laws, Liese said. Besides, it’s more common for East Coast drivers to purchase snow tires for the winter season, he said.

“It hasn’t been a problem, so we haven’t had to address it,” Liese said.

In California, Caltrans strictly controls access to state highways in icy conditions, turning back motorists unprepared for winter driving. Tahoe’s proximity to millions of Californians who aren’t accustomed to driving on snow-covered roads increases the need for chain controls, said Dan Wilkins, director of public works for the Town of Truckee.

But aggressive chain requirements in the Truckee-Tahoe area are typically limited to Interstate 80, he said. The town only imposes chain requirements on Northwoods Boulevard during heavy storms, and the damage incurred to the asphalt does not take precedence over the safety, Wilkins said.

Chain controls are not regulated on any Placer County roadway, said Public Works Director Ken Grehm.

“There’s a lot of work and effort associated with putting chain controls in place,” Grehm said. “We hope residents are familiar with chains, and just know when to use them.”

However, Grehm said he agrees that chain controls on Interstate 80 are fundamental as opposed to county roads.

“The price to be paid when an accident occurs on I-80 is huge,” Grehm said. “One person’s bad mistake can mess up a lot of people.”

– You must stop and put on chains when highway signs indicate chains are required. You can be cited by the California Highway Patrol and fined if you don’t. You will usually have about a mile between “Chains Required” signs and the checkpoint to install your chains.

– Control areas can change rapidly from place to place because of changing weather and road conditions. The speed limit when chains are required is 25 or 30 mph and will be posted along the highway.

– When you must put on chains, wait until you can pull completely off the roadway to the right. Do not stop in a traffic lane where you will endanger yourself and block traffic.

– Chain Installers: If you use the services of a chain installer, be sure to get a receipt and jot the installer’s badge number on it. Remember, chain installers are independent business people, not CHP employees. Having the badge number may help with any misunderstandings later. Chain installers are not allowed to sell or rent chains.

– When removing chains, drive beyond the signs reading “End Chain Control” to a pull-off area where you can safely remove them.


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