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Check tires and stay safe on roads in winter

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Making sure tire tread is at least 1/8 inch deep is crucial for safe winter driving. Experts suggest the quarter test, where a quarter is inserted into the tread a various spots on the tire. If the top of George Washington’s head is covered your tread is good to go. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Making sure tire tread is at least 1/8 inch deep is crucial for safe winter driving. Experts suggest the quarter test, where a quarter is inserted into the tread a various spots on the tire. If the top of George Washington’s head is covered your tread is good to go. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The upcoming months are traditionally some of the heaviest snow months in Colorado. Snowy and icy conditions are a challenge for even the most experienced drivers and can lead to serious accidents. To remain safe while driving in winter weather conditions start where the rubber meets the road - with your tires. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation Operation TireSafe offers some pointers for making sure tires are safe for the snow and ice so common on the roads in Colorado. Along with safety tips, CODOT wants drivers to be aware of traction and chain laws that can go into effect during inclement weather.

The Traction Law is enacted when conditions merit. Under the Traction Law cars on the road must have snow tires, tires with the mud/snow (M+S) designation or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle. All tires must have at least one-eighth inch deep treads.
During severe storms CDOT will put the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law into effect. Imposing this law is used in the worst conditions as a final precaution prior to closing roads and highways. Under this law all vehicles on the road are required to have chains or an alternative traction device like AutoSock.

Motorists who fail to comply and drive with inadequate equipment when either law is in place could face fines of $130 or more. Should a vehicle block a roadway due to having improper equipment while the laws are in affect the driver could be fined in excess of $650.

Tech. Sgt. Wade Woods, 21st Space Wing NCOIC of occupational safety, said awareness of following and stopping distances is something people often forget about when weather changes. CDOT says vehicles travelling 60 mph on snowy pavement with winter tires need 310 feet to stop. All-season tires need 668 feet, more than double the distance.

Another thing many drivers take for granted is checking tire tread depth.
"Make sure you have at least an eighth of an inch tread on each tire," Woods said.
CODOT recommends using the quarter test to check tread ware. To perform the test, simply insert a quarter upside down into the tread, Washington's head going in first. If the top of his head is covered then the tread depth is acceptable, if it is visible you cannot drive when a traction law is enforced. New tires are probably needed at that point as well.

Making sure all tires are properly inflated is something else drivers often overlook Woods said. Properly inflating and rotating tires regularly hinders tread wear. Improper tire inflation pressure can cause problems leading to sudden tire failure resulting in severe injury or death. Pressures should always be checked when the tires are cold and at least monthly, inflating them to manufacturer's recommended limits.

Tiresafety.com suggests rotating tires every 5,000 miles, which helps maintain even tread wear. Failing to repair tread punctures or penetrations may cause irreversible tire damage.

Extra caution will go a long way in getting the most out of tires in inclement conditions.

"Slow down and leave more stopping and following distance," Woods said, "And do a pre departure inspection prior to any trips. Slow down and drive defensively. You can be right and dead wrong at the same time."

CODOT partnered with a number of tire companies statewide to help motorists get new tires. To see a list of companies with deals in the area visit: winter.codot.gov/tires.

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