Mid-winter check-in: Traffic down, but motorists must remain Winter Wise

News Release

February 12, 2021 - Statewide - CDOT offers Presidents Day weekend travel tips

To download CDOT’s Winter Wise safety education materials, visit our Winter Wise webpage. 

Presidents Day weekend historically means traffic-jammed roads on the I-70 mountain corridor as Coloradans flock to the mountains for the holiday weekend. While traffic through the Eisenhower and Johnson tunnels is down this year, motorists still must prepare their vehicles for hazardous winter driving conditions.

From October 2020 to January 2021, roughly 3.9 million drivers traveled through the tunnels — a nearly 6% decrease from the 4.2 million drivers during the same period last year. Despite less congestion along the corridor, drivers still need to prepare for winter weather and make sure their vehicles and tires are ready for treacherous driving conditions. Between October 2020 and January 2021, CDOT has activated the Traction Law 81 times on the I-70 mountain corridor. Preliminary data shows 136 passenger vehicle crashes were reported during this period, resulting in about 96 hours of partial and full-lane closure time. Additionally, 48 non-crash emergency responses (mechanical issues, fires, spinouts/slideoffs) were reported, causing almost 27 hours of closure time.

“We consider Presidents Day the unofficial midpoint of winter and use this opportunity to review our data to see how it translates to safe winter driving,” said Andrew Hogle, CDOT public information officer. “Winter driving preparedness is something every Coloradan should take seriously, even for short trips. Winter driving safety has nothing to do with the distance of your trip or number of cars on the road — it’s about how your car handles snow and ice.”

Colorado’s Traction Law requires that all motorists have either an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle, winter tires (mountain-snowflake icon), tires with an all-weather rating, or mud/snow tires (M+S icon). If a vehicle has neither all-wheel, four-wheel drive or the adequate tires mentioned above, it must have chains or an approved alternative traction device. See a list of approved alternative traction devices here: bit.ly/36KG1P3.

The Traction Law also requires a minimum of three-sixteenths of an inch tread depth for tires on all vehicles — including those with four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. In addition, from Sept. 1 to May 31, all vehicles traveling on I-70 between Morrison and Dotsero must follow the Traction Law or carry chains or an approved alternative traction device. If the weather worsens, CDOT will activate the Chain Law, requiring all vehicles to have chains or an approved alternative traction device. For more Traction Law and Chain Law information and downloadable materials, visit codot.gov/travel/winter-driving/tractionlaw.

“The Traction Law can be wordy and confusing, but at its core, the law asks Coloradans to have the required tires and tread depth to limit delays and road closures and to keep everyone safe,” said Hogle.

CDOT implemented highway safety closures 216 times on I-70 between October 2020 and January 2021 and deployed 929 courtesy patrols. CDOT can call a safety closure if winter weather becomes dangerous and the probability increases for traffic incidents, congestion or other safety-related factors. During a safety closure, traffic may be stopped on the interstate, turned around or directed to an exit. Safety closures help decrease delay times and, above all, keep people safe. To view and download CDOT’s safety closure informational video, visit bit.ly/CDOTSafetyClosureVideo.

Coloradans should also be aware of the Tandem Snowplow Law, which makes it illegal to pass a group of snowplows operating in tandem formation (arranged diagonally). Violating the law is a Class A traffic offense and can result in fines.

CDOT urges people to remain mindful of current COVID-19 guidelines, but if Coloradans choose to travel during Presidents Day weekend, CDOT is offering motorists the following tips and reminders:

  • Know the Traction Law requirements. If you plan to drive on the I-70 mountain corridor any time through May 31, you must have three-sixteenths of an inch tread depth and EITHER:
    • A four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle
    • Winter tires (mountain-snowflake icon)
    • Tires with an all-weather rating by the manufacturer
    • Tires with a mud/snow designation (M+S icon)
    • Chains or an approved alternative traction device 

  • Obey the Tandem Snowplow Law. Never pass a snowplow on the right, and never attempt to pass a group of snowplows operating in tandem formation. This is now a Class A traffic offense.
  • Avoid traveling during peak times. Goi70.com offers weekend travel forecasts that are updated every Thursday afternoon to help you plan.
  • Use safe public transit if you need a ride. Bustang offers service to and from certain mountain areas and Bustang Outrider offers service in rural regions.
  • Be patient during safety metering. If you are stopped on I-70 near the Eisenhower Tunnel, it may be due to safety metering. Safety metering helps control traffic flow, reduce accidents and keep the tunnel clear for emergency vehicles to get through. Please be patient.
  • Express Lane is available. An Express Lane is available on eastbound I-70 between Empire and Idaho Springs for a toll that varies depending on the volume of traffic.

About Winter Wise

CDOT’s Winter Wise campaign focuses on education, tools and resources to help keep drivers safe on Colorado’s winter roads. To learn more and view helpful tips for winter driving, visit winter.codot.gov. For specific information about I-70 and other highway travel conditions, motorists can call 511 or check COtrip.org. Additionally, drivers can check Twitter for up-to-date travel information via @ColoradoDOT. For more detailed information about the Traction Law and Passenger Vehicle Safety Law, snowplow laws, safety stats and frequently asked questions, visit winter.codot.gov.

Whole System. Whole Safety.

In early 2019, CDOT announced its Whole System — Whole Safety initiative to heighten safety awareness. This initiative takes a systematic, statewide approach to safety combining the benefits of CDOT’s programs that address driving behaviors, our built environment and the organization's operations. The goal is to improve the safety of Colorado’s transportation network by reducing the rate and severity of crashes and improving the safety of all transportation modes. The program has one simple mission—to get everyone home safely.