Baumgardner : Let’s tread lightly on redundant “fixes” for winter congestion
March 7, 2016
For the second straight session we've seen a tire traction measure come before the Statehouse. And for the second straight session you can count me a skeptic, for the following reasons.
No one denies that winter congestion along the I-70 corridor is a major headache for all involved. As someone who does a good deal of driving along that stretch, I'm well aware of the hassles and frustrations that result when already-challenging driving conditions are made worse by ice, snow and a crush of slope-bound motorists. That the roadway in question is badly in need of widening and modernization (which is the real problem here, let's face it) just makes matters worse.
So I'm not blind to the problem. I just don't see how another tire traction law — on top of the tire traction law already on the books — will meaningfully address such a complex set of congestion-creating circumstances.
Tire tread standards already are set in law, as are fines for violations of tread depth rules and a failure to use traction devices under certain circumstances. And these laws already are being enforced. The Denver Post recently reported that 143 citations for traction law violations were written between October 22 and January 20, "as part of a campaign to unclog traffic through the high country."
Obviously we already have a tire traction law and, just as obviously, that law is being enforced. So why the need for a duplicative law?
What readers also may not know is that the crash rate along the I-70 corridor has been falling, not rising. And that trend hopefully will continue as the Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado State Patrol intensify efforts to educate the public about, and enforce, existing law.
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I commend CDOT for recent efforts to more actively educate the public about rules of the road in winter. The State Patrol also deserves credit for redoubling enforcement efforts. I believe both steps will have positive results if given time, without the need for a redundant new law.
I have a few other concerns as well.
These rules won't be uniformly applied to all mountain passes across Colorado, but just to this corridor, which seems like preferential treatment, or unfair punishment, depending on how one look at it. That's not in keeping with the core American concept of equal treatment under law.
They're also unfair to those just passing through – this is part of the interstate highway system, after all — who suddenly find themselves subject to a surprise set of rules they didn't know about in advance.
Finally, they're a potential turn-off to winter visitors, most of whom fly into Denver totally unaware of Colorado's traction laws. Imagine the nightmare a vacation could become if you find yourself forced to the shoulder, in the midst of a Rocky Mountain blizzard, trying to chain-up tires for the first time. That's not just unwelcoming; it's dangerous!
Piling unnecessary new law on old law may be good public relations for some. They can appear to be doing something about the problem, when they're really just spinning their wheels and wasting the legislature's time. But the bottom line for me is this: I just don't believe in passing new law when a problem can be addressed by the consistent enforcement of existing law. I don't believe my constituents sent me to the Capitol to pass laws for the sake of passing laws.
Baumgardner has for four years served Senate District 8. Before that, he represented House District 57 for four years.
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