A new law making chains mandatory for commercial trucks traveling snowy North Idaho passes made a big difference in the past week, officials say.
Before, Idaho had no chain requirements at all, and snowy spots such as Lookout Pass on Interstate 90 were frequently closed because of semitruck spinouts that blocked the route.
“I don’t think we’ve been getting the calls for the jackknifed rigs like we have in previous years, not even close,” said Shoshone County Undersheriff Mitch Alexander. “So I think it’s working.” He added, “It’s always a nice thing when you see something work, you know.”
“It really has helped us out immensely,” said Capt. Clark Rollins, of the Idaho State Police.
The wild wintry weather of the past week marked the first invocation of the law. It applies only to interstate trucks on three passes: Lookout and Fourth of July on I-90 and Lolo Pass on Highway 12.
“It’s got to be a big help,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who sponsored the bill that led to the law. “Just having the notice, the sign flashing at the bottom of the hill saying ‘Chains required for commercial vehicles,’ heightens the awareness about how bad the roads are, and makes people think twice about how fast they’re going.”
Montana, Washington and Oregon long have had mandatory chain-up laws, but the Idaho Legislature repeatedly rejected the idea. Broadsword this year proposed a bill applying only to interstate commercial trucks on the three passes. Other spots around the state have similar problems, but the ISP said the three passes were the only ones equipped with sufficient areas to let truck drivers chain up.
Broadsword’s bill took effect July 1.
“I think the legislation was desperately needed. … From what I’ve seen out there, a lot more trucks are chaining up,” said Alexander, who is the sheriff-elect in Shoshone County as well as the undersheriff.
Lt. Bill Reese, deputy commander of the ISP’s commercial vehicle safety division, said he’d like to see chains used on all passes in Idaho when the roads are especially bad.
“We just want people to be aware of it and use ’em when the roads are bad,” he said. “It looks like we’re in for a long stretch of bad weather statewide here.”