Snow Tire Traction Laws While Winter Driving in Colorado

snow tire traction

Colorado Winter Driving: Is Snow Tire Traction Really Necessary?

When it comes to Colorado winter driving, the safety benefits of snow tire traction cannot be understated. Colorado weather can seem deceptively mild in the winter. However, it takes mere hours to go from dry roads to icy blizzard conditions. You could find yourself in a ditch if you don’t have proper traction while driving in winter conditions. You could also end up sliding into another vehicle if you are unable to stop in time.

Your vehicle’s traction largely depends on the condition of your tires. Your tires are equipped with tread that helps them grip the road while the car is in motion. Only a fist-sized spot on your tire actually contacts the road at any given time. That tiny section of the tire is one of the most important parts of your vehicle when it comes to stopping safely. A vehicle must have tire tread that will hug the road when stopping, accelerating and navigating turns.

Snow tires are highly recommended for winter driving, particularly in regions with heavy snow. Snow tires provide a variety of benefits to drivers that make winter driving much safer. However, Honest Accurate team members still get a lot of questions about whether or not snow tires are necessary and how to gain traction in the snow. In this article, we’re answering our top customer questions on winter tire safety. We will also provide our best snow tire tips, so you have the knowledge you need to stay safe this season.

Table of Contents

How Are Snow Tires Different from All-Weather and Summer Tires?

While it may seem like a tire is just a tire, snow tires are different from all-weather and summer tires. They are not just an extra expense created by tire companies, nor are they a waste of money. In 2017, Consumer Reports conducted tests on stopping distances for winter tires compared to all-season tires. The results showed that it took significantly longer to stop.

Winter Tires vs. All-Season: Stopping Distance for Snow Tire Traction

Data in Table 1 was gathered from

Table 1 Winter Tires All-Weather Tires
Ice Braking 30 feet to stop 36 feet to stop
Snow Traction 64 feet to reach 20 mph 86 feet to reach 20 mph

What drives such a significant difference in safety and stopping time? Winter tires are specifically engineered for ice, snow and cold temperatures.

Winter tires are constructed of a rubber compound that will remain soft even in freezing temperatures. Tires will bend, flex and adhere to the road in a way that cold, all-weather tires cannot. The result of this flexibility is better road contact and traction

It’s worth noting that the same softness that benefits you in the winter will not be great in the summer. Snow tires wear much more quickly in the harsh heat of summer. It is necessary to switch back to all-weather or summer tires as soon as the risk of snow and ice has passed.

Snow tire treads are designed to have more edges, called “sipes,” that grip the snow and ice more effectively. Treads are deeper and channel snow and slush away from the tread to further help with traction on the road. This results in slip-resistant tires that give you more traction in adverse weather conditions.

Are Snow Tires the Same as Studded Tires?

You’ve probably heard the tell-tale crackle of studded tires on roads near ski resorts or areas with heavy snow. While a studded tire is a snow tire, not all snow tires are studded tires. That’s because the two serve different purposes.

Studded Tires

Studded tires are most suitable for icy roads where even more grip is needed to prevent slipping and sliding. Small metal components are partially embedded in the tire’s rubber to dig into ice and provide more traction. Studded tires are particularly useful for people who live in coastal areas or lakeside areas prone to freeze. Roads near large bodies of water tend to ice over in the winter, making the metal components very helpful to safe driving.

Snow Tires

Snow tires have hefty tread designed to ensure that the tire’s small footprint on the road maximizes its grip. This is particularly useful on packed snow because the tire bites into the snow to create traction. The sipes in a snow tire expel slush and water from the sides of the tire. This improves control when roads are wet and helps prevent hydroplaning. As mentioned earlier, the specialized rubber also improves traction because it is able to grip the road better than its stiffer all-season counterparts.

Snow tires are probably the best bet for Colorado winter driving. However, drivers can use studded tires if they wish. Colorado has no restrictions on studded snow tires at this time. If you plan to drive outside of Colorado with your studded tires, it is important to check state laws. Some states outright ban the use of studded tires because they can cause increased wear on roads. Other states restrict usage to the winter season or certain regions.

I Have 4WD/AWD. Do I Need Snow Tires?

Many drivers have the mistaken impression that 4WD or AWD gives them a pass on installing winter tires or maintaining their all-weather tires. Make no mistake, 4- wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles are beneficial to helping drivers navigate winter roads. Having power in all four tires during winter weather is very valuable.

If the front end of a vehicle slides off the side of the road, 4WD and AWD increase the options for getting the vehicle safely back on the road. In contrast, front-wheel drive would make it nearly impossible to get back on the road because there is no power to the rear tires. Rear-wheel drive poses similar issues due to weight distribution. This is in addition to being a less than ideal vehicle for driving in the snow.

With 4WD and AWD, the vehicle has two additional tires in the rear powered to pull the car back. However, that only applies if the tires can get good traction. Tires that are worn or not rated for winter driving will slide uselessly. If you have AWD and bad tires, you will have four wheels turning uselessly instead of two. That’s where snow tires come in.

Snow tires provide increased traction to support the power of 4WD and AWD. Drivers have a far better chance of avoiding hazards if they have both. Of course, that does not mean you should drive carelessly. Slow down and proceed with caution to assist your AWD/4WD and snow tires in keeping you safe.

What Is Colorado’s Snow Tire Traction Law? Do I Need Tire Chains in Colorado?

The Colorado traction laws go into effect once CDOT determines that roads are potentially hazardous enough to implement precautionary measures. Colorado/CDOT traction laws vary depending on the weather conditions, region and type of vehicle owned. Typically, there are three options for enhancing your vehicle’s traction: snow tires, snow chains and snow cables.

In most cases, snow tires are sufficient for travel. Colorado only requires chains when there is extreme winter weather or on certain highways. It can be confusing to travelers, which is why “is the chain law in effect in Colorado today” is a commonly Googled topic in our state in the winter! You can find the answer fastest via CDOT’s website. It provides up-to-the-minute road conditions and has a search function so you can check your specific route.

Winter weather may not always require chains, but having snow tires all winter long is beneficial. In some cases, it may not even be about practicality. It may be the law. Some Colorado tire traction laws require that you have snow tires to drive on certain roads or highways.

When it comes to snow tire traction laws, Colorado has several different options that depend on the type of severe weather and the location of the road. Here are a few examples compiled from CDOT’s Passenger Vehicle Traction & Chain Laws webpage:

  1. An AWD vehicle with at least 3/16” tread depth.
  2. Mud and snow tires with the proper designation: a mountain or snowflake icon on the tire or the letters M+S on the sidewall. Tires should also have 3/16” tread depth.
  3. All-weather tires with 3/16” tread depth
  4. Snow chains or state-approved alternatives. Many visitors ask are snow cables legal In Colorado, it depends on the area. In general, it is a good idea to have chains no matter what, if traveling in the mountains.

You may have noticed that tire tread is pretty important for snow tire traction in Colorado. We’ll cover that in the next section, along with a few other tips for inspecting your tires.

What if I Don’t Have/Can’t Afford Snow Tires?

If you have to use all-weather tires or can’t afford snow tires, there are steps you can take to make sure your car is winter-ready. Let’s take a look at what can affect tire traction in winter weather.

Are your tires wearing evenly across the tire, or is one side or the middle of the tire worn down more than the other?

Uneven tread wear could signal an issue with your vehicle’s alignment. If your car is out of alignment, your tires will wear unevenly, impacting their traction. Tire wear also makes you more vulnerable to flats, especially if your tire is worn down to the metal bands.

Replacing your tires because of poor alignment is expensive and unnecessary. Inspect your tires regularly and pay attention to how your vehicle handles while driving to stay on top of potential alignment issues.

Is your tread depth ⅛” or thinner?

Colorado tire tread depth law notes that your tires should have a minimum depth of 3/16”.

How do you know if your tread depth measures up and meets the specifications?

One way to check is to use the Quarter Test.

Snow Tire Traction Law Quarter Test

When stopped, turn your wheels to the side so that you can see the width of the tire. Take a quarter and place it with Washington’s head down between the treads, with Washington’s head facing outward. If you can see all of Washington’s head, you have less than 3/16ths of an inch depth in the tread. That is below what is required by CO law.

Conduct a tire tread inspection while your tires are visible, look at whether your tire is wearing evenly from inside to outside. Tread is also an important factor for your snow tires. If you have bald winter tires, slipping is all but guaranteed if you hit black ice.

At Honest Accurate Auto, we can also perform tire inspections to detect problems and ensure you have the best tires for snow and ice. In the video below, Honest Accurate Auto Service co-owner Roy Keiserwalks viewers through a list of steps to take when examining your tires.

Where Can I Find Snow Tires Near Me?

Honest Accurate Auto Service sells a variety of tires that are suited to Colorado winter weather (and all other seasons, as well). Our experienced technicians can help you find the right tire for your vehicle’s needs at a price that fits within your budget.

In addition to helping you select and purchase winter tires, we can also help you install and remove your winter tires each season. The added benefit of using our service is that we can keep tabs on your car throughout the year and inform you of any potential issues we may notice during your vehicle inspection. This includes wear and tear on your tires caused by the vehicle being out of alignment or the need for new snow tires before the season begins.

Get ready for winter weather now with the correct tires for your car. If you want to know more about how to get better traction in the snow, our Honest Accurate Team is available to answer any questions you might have. We want you and your family to stay safe all year long, especially during the winter. We know that the winter weather and busy roads make driving a little more stressful this time of year, so we want to do our part to make you feel comfortable. We are committed to making your tires and cars as safe as possible. Schedule an appointment with us today.

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