Truck drivers may be putting you at risk on wintry roadways

As the summer weather gives way to cooler temperatures, Colorado truck drivers are required to start thinking about traveling with chains. In fact, Colorado law requires truckers to carry chains from September 1 to May 31 if traveling on the I-70 corridor west of Denver between Morrison and Edwards. The Colorado State Patrol Motor Carrier Safety Section, which is charged with ensuring the safe operation of all commercial vehicles and operators within the state, can issue fines to commercial drivers for $500 plus a surcharge for not chaining up when the chain law is in effect. A commercial driver may also be fined up to $1000 plus a surcharge if a vehicle is unchained when required, and as a result blocks the road. When winter roads, like I-70, are shut down due to accidents, heavy costs are dealt to ski resorts, other businesses and commercial truckers — an estimated $800,000 to $1 million an hour, or about $143 million last year, according to State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs.

Even worse, more than 1,300 people are killed and 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement each year. A study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration found that although large trucks accounted for only 7 percent of the total vehicles on our roads they were involved in crashes at more than double that rate. Moreover, passenger vehicle occupants are usually those who suffer the greatest injuries in accidents with large trucks, accounting for 76 percent of all injuries involving a semi-trailer.

“The reason for the requirement to carry these chains is that with the adverse weather conditions changing so rapidly in the Colorado high country we want to get these vehicles safely to their final destination,” says Rocco Domenico, Colorado State Patrol Sergeant. In fact, last February, up to 70 vehicles were involved in a series of winter crashes in the state, one of which involved a jack-knifed semi-trailer that hit multiple vehicles causing a chain reaction, and another accident involving a semi-trailer that flipped over on a snowy roadway, spilling 55 gallons of diesel fuel on Vail Pass, which took road crews hours to clear.

While passenger motorists cannot always avoid truck accidents, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) offers drivers some cold weather driving tips to avoid accidents with large trucks on wintry roadways:

  • Make sure to equip your car with safe winter tires. Bald or worn tires cannot grip the road and can be extremely hazardous. In just one winter day last year, of the 22 vehicles CDOT assisted that spun out and caused an accident or blocked traffic, 19 had bald tires.
  • Chains aren’t just for trucks. When authorities issue a mandatory passenger vehicle chain notice, make sure you follow it to keep you and your
    family safe.
  • Don’t crowd the plow. Snow plows are out clearing the roads for your safety and they need space to do their work. Don’t tailgate plows even though they travel slowly because they may need to make sudden stops. And remember, just because you can see a plow doesn’t mean they can see you, so exercise caution when passing.

If you or a loved one were injured in a truck accident, contact an experienced Colorado truck accident attorney who can evaluate your case and help you understand your rights.