Monday, December 10, 2018

Chain-up or pay up this winter on Snoqualmie Pass

By Meagan Lott

‘Tis the time of year when holiday lights go up, Mariah Carey lets us know what she wants for Christmas, and snow falls on our mountain passes. And while snow can make for a beautiful sight, it can also make for challenging driving conditions.

That’s right, it’s time to break out your tire chains!

Unfortunately, many drivers crossing snowy mountain passes either don’t carry chains despite it being required by law, or don’t put them on. For the past several years, more than half of the closures on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass have been due to vehicles ignoring a chain-up requirement and then getting into collisions and blocking lanes.
Chaining up when required on Snoqualmie Pass is vital for everyone’s safety, and failing to do so can result in a hefty fine.


This winter we are working with the Washington State Patrol, which will be enforcing chain requirements during winter storms and inclement weather on Snoqualmie Pass. If you don’t chain-up, you will have to pay up. Ignoring the chain requirements could cost you $500. It’s a stiff penalty, but this is really important. When collisions block lanes on the pass, we have to close the roadway in order to get emergency personnel and tow trucks to the scene. This is much more challenging to do on a mountain pass highway than on a regular highway, and it can take hours. Not only does it take a long time, but it’s a huge inconvenience to the more than 30,000 vehicles that travel across Snoqualmie Pass every day.

So, this is a great time to remind you what the requirements are:

  • Vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or greater – including some large SUVs and RVs – must install chains when traction tires are required.
  • All vehicles, except 4WD and AWD, must put on chains when tire chains are required. However, 4WD and AWD vehicles still need to carry chains in order to proceed across the pass. 
  • All vehicles including 4WD and AWD need to put on chains when chains are required on ALL vehicles.

What if your car has smaller wheel wells and can’t take chains? Or the manufacturer doesn’t recommend chains? Well, you are in luck. The State Patrol has compiled a list of approved alternatives you will need to use in place of chains. Not every “tire sock” chain alternative is approved as meeting our state standards, so check the WSP list before you make a purchase.

As always we have a great online toolkit to help prepare you for travel this winter as well as our communications tools to use before you head out the door or while you’re on the road:


So remember if you’re heading over Snoqualmie Pass this winter, make sure you and your vehicle are prepared to travel in the ice and snow and you understand and follow the chain requirements.

50 comments:

Johnny Calcagno said...

In the compiled a list of approved alternatives that you linked to, there is nothing about 4WD cars, yet apparently 4WD need to have an approved alternative when ALL cars are required to have chains. What are they supposed to do? I have a Subaru Forester and you are NOT supposed to put chains on it.

frequent driver of the pass said...

If I have a AWD with the technology preventing slippage and transfers load to all four where needed, why do I need chains? If I do need to put chains on my AWD do they go on front or back? Some MFGs advise against chains because it overrides the sensors in place to be an effective AWD.Please advise
Thanks
JL

Unknown said...

Renenber 1 inch of snow they close the interstate!!!!

Alex said...

Confused about one scenario: An AWD drive car whose manufacturer doesn’t recommend chains. The Approved Alternatives chart does not have a column for AWD cars.

Alan Cottrill said...

4WD/AWD doesn't aid in stopping and turning. All it does is provide traction under acceleration. I think the chart needs another column for AWD cars whose manufacturers don't provide recommendations for traction aids like chains. That column would be "Stay off the pass until conditions improve".

WSDOT said...

The traction tire requirements are set by the legislature and are law. If chains are required for vehicles except AWD or 4WD you still have to carry chains or an alternative to chains as outlined by the WSP. We rarely require AWD and 4WD to put on chains/alternative options. If it gets to chains required for AWD and 4WD then conditions are very bad and you should consider changing your travel plans.

Johnny Calcagno said...

WSDOT @ 8:18am -

Sorry, the "alternative to chains" page does NOT list alternatives for AWD/4WD. Can you address this, either by changing that document or adding language somewhere else, perhaps along the lines of "If it gets to chains required for AWD and 4WD then conditions are very bad and you should consider changing your travel plans."

frequent driver of the pass said...

Agree with you on that

Unknown said...

Why not simply allow real snow tires as an alternate to chains? A two-wheel drive vehicle with proper tires will accelerate, brake, and turn far more effectively than a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle with all-season tires.

As tires improve, and as the technology managing power to the ground improves, it seems backward-looking to not pursue a change in the legislation.

Unknown said...

I need to get back jpme.to Montana. Can someone give me a current update on snoqualmie

WSDOT said...

Johnny Calcagno, thanks for the feedback. This approved list was created by the Washington State Patrol. WE have a call in to them to see if they can update the chart to indicate requirements for AWD / 4WD. However, the car manufacturer should let you know what approved alternate chain options would work best for your vehicle and what set of tires to install them on.

WSDOT said...

The chart outlining the approved traction devices that are in accordance with WAC 204-24-035 is from the Washington State Patrol since they enforce the law. You will need to talk with the car manufacturer to find out what approved alternative would work best and which set of tires to place the alternative on.

WSDOT said...

To get the latest information about conditions and restrictions on Snoqualmie Pass, please visit our webpage: www.wsdot.com/traffic/passes/snoqualmie/default.aspx

Unknown said...

Maybe all the people with 2wd cars that doesn't chain up Should just loose there driversd license. I travel over the pass twice a week and have never put chains on my truck. If people would just learn to drive in snow and ice other people would be safer. You people don't understand that the worst thing you can do is drive at a snail's pace and or stop on ice or snow. On Sunday I drove over and there wasn't a plow truck on the road till I hit CLE elem. The past few years dot have gotten worse at clearing the roads till there's an accident.

Cuzsis said...

Quick clarification and question for 4wd/AWD: Do you need to carry chains *only* when they are required for other vehicles, or at all times?

Second, how many chains? All 4 tires or just 2?

Thanks for your post!

Wyeth said...

So, this seems to contradict information on WSDOT's website, where it states that AWD vehicles with properly marked snow tires are exempt from putting chains on but must carry chains even when "Required on all vehicles" is in place. Can you clarify?

From WSDOT website: Exemptions
Four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicles are exempt from chain requirements when all wheels are in gear and are equipped with approved traction devices, provided that tire chains for at least one set of drive tires are carried in the vehicle. See WAC 204-24-050.

Unknown said...

Our governor wants to be president and he can't even get a major highway plowed. Horrid conditions on I 90.

WSDOT said...

Cuzsis, you only need to carry chains or an approved alternative to chains when chains are required on vehicles except AWD / 4WD. The amount and location of the chains is dependent on the type of vehicle. I would consult your vehicle manual or contact the manufacturer.

WSDOT said...

Wyeth, we apologize for the confusion. AWD and 4WD vehicles need to carry a set of chains in the vehicle for at least one set of tires when the traction requirement is “Chains Required.” When the traction requirement is “Chains Required on all Vehicles” this is when AWD and 4WD vehicles need to put on chains.

WSDOT said...

Currently, the mountain passes are receiving several feet of snow. Our crews are working around the clock to plow snow and put down deicer. However, during major snow storms like the one we are experiencing, the roadway is never going to be bare and wet. This is unrealistic. Drivers traveling over the pass today and tomorrow need to be prepared to drive in snow and ice or consider delaying their trips until the weather clears.

WSDOT said...

In order to have 24 hour coverage on Snoqualmie Pass, our crews work two 12-hour shifts. I can assure you our crews are actively plowing snow and putting down deicer. Our crews plow snow in tandem so if you don’t see a plow it’s because there are several plowing the roadway together several miles ahead of you or several miles behind you. We also shift our resources to the area receiving the most active weather. On Sunday, the pass wasn’t seeing the kind of snow requiring as much plowing as it is today and tomorrow.

Unknown said...

I thought if you had winter/snow tires and AWD you were exempt from needing chains. Did this change?

skiibum said...

What about and AWD car with proper seasonally installed snow tires? (Mountain Snowflake Symbol on the sidewall) My understanding was this was the equivalent of having chains installed and chains were then not required to be carried?

Unknown said...

Second the question posed by unknown on December 11, 2018 at 4:04pm - if a 4WD / AWD drive vehicle is fitted with snow tires as meeting the requirements laid out in section 3 of WAC 204-24-040, is it still required to carry tire chains? WAC 204-24-040 seems to indicate that snow tires (so long as they comply with section 3 meet the requirement of "traction devices" and thus would take the place of tire chains or other.

Or is this misinterpreted and chains are required to be in the vehicle no matter what type of tires and drive system it is equipped with?

Unknown said...

Another issue that should be addressed is the driver's who are not comfortable to drive in the inclement weather conditions yet seam to drive in the left lane. Please be courteous and move to the right if you are not going to pass the other cars or trucks. Because us people who properly prepared our vehicles and are comfortable driving in these conditions really get irritated by you frightened and unprepared people. The frightened and unprepared will find that following the big trucks will be less stressful and find the road easier to drive on because there will be less snow ridges caused by the varying vehicle and tire widths.
Thanks, be safe and courteous
I love the snow guy

Unknown said...

Was this just your thought on the law? I thought the law was clear, have chains or your not legal no matter what you have for a vehicle or what tires you have. There is no need to change laws other than clarification on alternatives to actual chains like tire socks which work in some conditions like compact snow and ice.

Pete said...

It is unreasonable to require chains on AWD vehicles with winter tires. If it is that bad the pass should be closed. I've never seen conditions where I would get stuck in 50 years of snow driving.

Guest said...

Per below bullet point from above:
“All vehicles, except 4WD and AWD, must put on chains when tire chains are required. However, 4WD and AWD vehicles still need to carry chains in order to proceed across the pass.“

What if your destination is the pass for sking,i.e you will not be driving “across the pass” are 4WD/AWD vehicles still required to carry chains?

WSDOT said...

The requirements haven't changed, but there is some confusion on what the requirements are. This is part of the reason why we are trying to educate drivers via our blog, website and social media channels. By law, when the traction tire restrictions on Snoqualmie Pass or any mountain pass in Washington State is "Chains Required" AWD or 4WD vehicles don't need to put on chains, however, a set of chains or alternative traction device (pdf 124 kb) needs to be in the vehicle that will fit one set of tires. If the traction tire restrictions change to "Chains Required on All Vehicles" this is when AWD or 4WD vehicles need to put on chains or alternative traction device. You will need to touch base with your vehicle manufacture on what kind of chains or alternative traction device to use on your specific make and model.

skiibum said...

I 2nd this question. As I read it the same way as the unknown poster.
Also, every imperical test I’ve seen shows real snow tires are superior to chains in the metrics that matter.
Also is the attorney general going to go after retail tire stores selling snow tires as an alternative to chains on AWD cars? I know that sales pitch was used towards me on my last 2 sets?
(Avid skier, love driving in snow)

WSDOT said...

skiibum, there is a lot of confusion on the two different traction tire requirements and what applies to AWD or 4WD. So, let's go over it. When the traction tire requirement is "Chains Required" this means AWD / 4WD vehicles do not have to put on chains. However, these vehicles need to have all wheels in gear and equipped with an approved traction device such as studded tires, tires with a "mud and snow" label or a mountain/snowflake symbol, as well as a set of chains or an approved traction tire alternative such as low profile chains or tire socks for at least one set of tires inside the vehicle. When the traction tire requirement is "Chains Required on All Vehicles" all vehicles including AWD / 4WD need to put on chains or the approved traction alternative. The primary reason why AWD and 4WD vehicles need to have chains or an alternative inside the vehicle for at least one set of tires is in case the traction tire requirement switches from "Chains Required" to "Chains Required on All Vehicles."

There is no alternative to chains or the approved traction devices. The salesperson has misinterpreted the law. Your seasonal tires with the Mountain / Snowflake symbol fits the requirement when "Chains are Required" as long as you have all wheels in gear and you also have a set of chains or an approved traction device inside your vehicle.

WSDOT said...

Guest, although your destination is the summit, you still need to abide by the traction tire requirements in order to get to and from the summit.

WSDOT said...

Pete, Snoqualmie Pass is the main east-west transportation corridor in our state and closing it has huge implications on our economy. We work very hard to keep it open in the winter as long as drivers obey the traction tire requirements. These requirements aren’t to inconvenience drivers, but to keep everyone safe. There are times we have to close the pass due to weather, but more than half of the closures are due to collisions because drivers didn’t travel prepared or have the proper traction device on their vehicle. Just because a vehicle has AWD or 4WD doesn’t mean it can travel through any weather condition. The law requires AWD or 4WD vehicles to not only have traction tires on their vehicle, but also have a set of chains or an approved alternative inside their vehicle when the traction requirement is “Chains Required.” If not, you are subject to a potential fine of up to $500.

WSDOT said...

Yes, an AWD or 4WD vehicle still needs to carry chains or an approved alternative (pdf 124 kb) (like low profile chains or tire socks) even with the proper "traction devices" on your vehicle as outlined in WAC 204-24-040 when the traction tire requirement is "Chains Required." These "traction devices" are not a substitute for chains because when the traction requirement changes to "Chains Required on All Vehicles" that means all vehicles including AWD or 4WD will need to put on chains or the approved alternatives. If this is the case, conditions are really bad and you should consider changing your travel plans. This traction requirement does happen at least once a year.

Kelly Millman said...

I drove east over Snoqualmie Pass on Monday morning (in a truck that has 4WD). Conditions were mostly bare and wet, with slush and compact snow in places. My biggest challenge was dodging all the chains that were strewn about the road that had fallen off rigs. Hopefully, in the future, folks will do their best to make sure they put their chains on correctly. These were big chains, so I am assuming for big rigs. Hopefully part of CDL and other licenses or driving courses teach proper chain up methods.

Wyeth said...

Right, I understand that for an AWD vehicle with regular tires. But does that mean regardless of whether or not said AWD vehicle has snow tires on? The WSDOT website still states an exemption , and I think that's what's confusing people. Historically, we had taken that exemption to mean AWD with snow tires was exempt, even under "required on all vehicles". Obviously, they still must be carried.

Wyeth said...

Ok, hoping to clarify which is the correct interpretation here. There are a lot of skiers that operate under the assumption that AWD with snow tires never need to put on chains, we just carry them in case we get stuck/because we're required to.

Option A)
--Chains required except AWD = Chains required on all vehicles, except 4WD/AWD with approved snow tires. AWD without approved snow tires (eg all-season tires) still need to use chains.
--Chains required All VEHICLES = Chains required all vehicles regardless of drive system or tire type.

Option B)
--Chains required except AWD = Chains required on vehicles, all AWD/4WD vehicles are exempt.
--Chains required All Vehicles = Chains required on all vehicles, including AWD/4WD, however those with AWD/4WD plus approved snow tires are exempt

Are either of those correct? I think most skiers operate under Option B, but I'm starting to think what is actually the law is option A.

WSDOT said...

Wyeth, the wording in the WAC is confusing and this is why we wanted to write this blog to get the conversation started so we could clear up any confusion. The "exemption" is for physically putting on chains when the requirement is "Chains Required" as long as the AWD or 4WD vehicle has snow tires on and carries chains or the approved alternative inside the vehicle for at least one set of tires. If this is done, then the vehicle is "exempt" from putting on chains and can proceed without the possibility of being pulled over and cited by WSP when the restriction is "Chains Required." However, once the restriction changes to "Chains Required on All Vehicles" there are no exemptions and all vehicles including AWD or 4WD need to put on chains or the approved alternative. Unfortunately, this is the law as written by the Legislature. In order for it to change or to be modified local representatives need to be contacted and talked to.

Unknown said...

What about studded tires? Do they meet the requirement as an approved alternative?

Unknown said...

Subaru? They can accept sae s class chains on front tires. AWD doesn't do anything for cornering and stopping.

Unknown said...

Check out snowsocks

Unknown said...

The traction "categories" need to be revisited by the WSP. We all know that a 2WD vehicle with proper winter tires is better equipped to safely travel a winter roadway than ANY vehicle with all-season tires. Why is there no category for "Winter Tires"? Why is it permissible, wait no, REQUIRED for me to cover my winter tires with some sort of "approved traction sock" to avoid a $500 fine..!? But not all 4 tires, just 2 of them..? There is no physical basis for any of this nonsense.

You want to keep the pass open? Meter the volume during severe conditions. Monitor traffic flow at the top of the pass. If congestion is forming at the summit, send fewer drivers at larger time intervals. The less-capable vehicles basically require 2 things to stay out of trouble; momentum and space/distance. The WSP could use their own judgement to meter traffic density during critical times in an effort to give EVERYONE the best chance at a successful passage. Have you ever been to a nightclub that isn't letting people in the door until a corresponding number of people exit the building? It's safe, and the club is able to function at peak efficiency.

WSDOT said...

Wyeth, option A is correct and is the law. Skiers interpreting Option B as the law are incorrect and could be cited by WSP on their way up or down the mountain during these traction tire requirements. Thanks for double checking. We would appreciate it you could help us get the correct information out to your ski friends.

WSDOT said...

Studded tires are considered an approved “traction device.” However, if the traction tire requirement is “Chains Required” and you are driving an AWD or 4WD vehicle you need to have all four wheels in gear, your studded tires on and a set of chains or an approved alternative to chains, like a tire sock, in your vehicle that fits at least one set of tires. Otherwise you are subject to a fine. Studded tires are not an alternative to chains or tire socks. Studded tires are like having a set of winter tires. If you aren’t driving an AWD or 4WD vehicle with the restriction is “Chains Required” and only have studded tires on, you still need to put on chains.

WSDOT said...

We have contacted Subaru and have been told Subaru’s can use a low profile alternative like tire socks as outlined by the WSP.

WSDOT said...

The law guiding the requirements is decided upon by the legislature. Any concern you have regarding the requirements should be discussed with your local representative. Our job is to keep drivers safe and make sure to abide by the law. This is why the Washington State Patrol is partnering with us to make sure drivers abide by the law. Traction devices are defined as tire chains, studded tires and approved traction tires with the following tread characteristics:
a) A minimum of 4/32 inch tread, measured in the center portion of the tire at three locations equally spaced around the circumference of the tire.
(b) A relatively aggressive tread pattern designed primarily to provide additional starting, stopping, and driving traction on snow or ice. The tread must have ribs, lugs, blocks or buttons the edges of which are at an angle greater than thirty degrees to the tire circumferential centerline.
(c) On at least one side of the tread design, the shoulder lugs protrude at least 1/2-inch in a direction generally perpendicular to the direction of travel.
(d) Tires manufactured to meet these specifications must:
(i) Be permanently labeled on at least one sidewall with the words "mud and snow" or any contraction using the letters "M" and "S" (e.g. MS, M/S, M-S, M & S, etc.); or
(ii) Be permanently labeled on at least one side wall with the mountain/snowflake symbol.
(4) Alternative traction devices. Any alternative traction device approved under this chapter must be used in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations concerning proper use of the product. The list of approved devices will be maintained on the patrol's web site. Upon suspension or revocation of an approval for an alternative traction device, the device will be removed from the list of approved devices on the patrol's web site.

I don’t believe it says anything about all season or winter tires specifically. As long as the tire has these tread characteristics then they are an approved traction device. We continue to find ways to make sure travel across Snoqualmie Pass is safe for everyone as well as making sure we can keep the pass open in the winter.

Carl P said...

Thanks to the crews for working many hours plowing, deicing, sanding, etc. then doing it all over again 6 hours later for us drivers! We drivers need to buy quality winter tires and use them or stay off the pass.

Jake Jones said...

Quite confusing... I actually run snow/ice tires on my AWD vehicles (CX-5 and GX 460)during the winter including Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2s and Michelin Latittude X-Ice Xi2. Kinda ridiculous to suggest I need to be putting chains on with my traction setup. Those who run actually snow/ice tires will know what I mean. I keep a setup of chains to be legal and I understand from the perspective that there are some sporting basically summer tires on their AWD vehicles that aren't much better than FWD with all seasons. There needs to be an additional pass traction level to account for AWD with snow/ice tires.

WSDOT said...

Jake Jones,
Thanks for your question.
We’re bound by the restrictions set out in state law. The section that requires chains be carried in AWD vehicles anticipates that conditions may worsen enough that chains would be needed on all vehicles. It also states that WSP and WSDOT can restrict any vehicle they don’t feel can safely travel due to conditions. There is not a category for AWD plus snow tires that does away with the need to carry – and if conditions call for it, install – chains.
It’s rare that chains are required on all vehicles, but when that is posted the law applies to everyone. Our goal is to keep everyone moving safely and we take that seriously, so when “chains required on all vehicles” is posted we do believe every vehicle needs to install chains to safely cross the pass.
I’d also want to note that the regulation is based on state law – set by the Legislature, not WSDOT, – so you may want to reach out to your lawmakers to discuss possible changes to the requirements.

Unknown said...

The problem isn't the installation The problem is the state implements the chain law with one snowflake. Chains are not for bare wet pavement, they are for deep snow and ice. But the state would rather trucks chain up to destroy the road, and break chains when they are not necessary.

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