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Vail Daily column: Be safe around chain-up areas

Commercial vehicles operating on Interstate 70 between mile marker 133 in Dotsero and mile marker 259 in Morrison are required to carry chains between Sept. 1 and May 31. The Colorado Department of Transportation makes the determination on when to put the chain law into effect based on road and weather conditions. Failure to carry chains when operating a commercial motor vehicle is punishable by law and carries a fine of $69. If the driver of a commercial vehicle fails to chain up when required, it is a fine of $579 and if the subsequent unchained vehicle blocks the roadway, it is a $1,157 fine.

As a result of these circumstances, the chain-up area, located eastbound at mile marker 178 on I-70 through Vail, can be difficult to navigate in the winter. It is not only dangerous because of the road conditions, but also because of the large amount of traffic that can build up in the area. The same is true for the chain-down area located westbound at mile marker 179. In December 2009, a driver who was taking his chains off was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle. In 2011, two more people were struck by a passing vehicle as they chained up and one was sent to the hospital in serious condition. To help prevent another tragedy, the Vail Police Department would like to offer the following safety reminders for the winter season.

There are two common scenarios that cause accidents in the chain-up area. The first scenario is when the chain-up area is full of semi trucks and a car fails to move into the left lane as instructed by the illuminated signs at the beginning of the chain-up area. A semi truck, which has limited visibility and expects the slow lane to be moving slowly, enters traffic “cutting off” the car. The car then hits a semi truck or, worse yet, a person chaining up.

The second and most common scenario is as follows: A car traveling through the chain-up area hits a patch of ice while being driven faster than the 50 mph speed limit, and slides into a semi truck, another car, or one of the people chaining up on the interstate.

Here are a few reminders to get us all through the winter safely:

Always remember to move over to the fast lane. An officer is usually located at the beginning of the chain-up area, not only to inform truck drivers they are required to chain-up by law, but to move passenger cars over to the left lane. It can become very congested in the chain-up area and it's sometimes difficult for trucks to maneuver into an open spot to put on their chains. This can result in semi trucks moving slowly, or even stopping, in the area, causing congestion. In addition, the snow can cover the white fog line, making it difficult to tell the difference between the right lane and the shoulder. Often truck drivers put their chains on very close to the right lane boundary because of the number of trucks utilizing the area. This not only puts the driver in danger, but contributes to the congestion problem.

Remember to follow the illuminated speed limit signs. These signs are located near the chain-up area at eastbound mile marker 177 and the chain-down area at westbound mile marker 179. When the chain law is in effect, the speed limit is reduced to 50 mph. This speed limit slows down traffic during low visibility so truck drivers can safely merge into the left lane when they have finished placing chains on their trucks.

Failure to follow either of these reminders could result in a traffic ticket from an officer or, worse yet, a crash!

Slow down and maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front of you. Regardless of the speed limit, ensure you are able to maintain control of your vehicle at all times. Also keep in mind that during inclement weather the stopping distance of your vehicle increases greatly, so keep your distance from the vehicle in front of you.

Ensure your vehicle is in proper working condition and plan ahead. Besides making sure your vehicle is running properly, check that your tires are inflated properly and have enough tread. Ensure you have windshield washer fluid, preferably with de-icing solution added, to maintain good visibility. Keep your vehicle stocked with necessary equipment, such as flares, flashlight, traffic triangles, etc., should you be involved in an accident and need to exit your vehicle while on the roadway.

On behalf of the Vail Police Department, we offer these driving tips to help you navigate the snowy roads this winter.

Craig Westering is an officer with the Vail Police Department.

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Pilot Program Allows Mexican Semi Trucks Across U.S. Borders

May 27, 2010
Each year in the United States there are approximately 5,000 deaths and over 100,000 injuries from 18-wheeler accidents. The thought of allowing Mexican trucks free access to our highways has caused an outcry and protests in 2007.
In September 2007, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Bush administration approved a pilot program that would allow Mexican trucks to freely traverse US highways. However, the period between September 2007 and February 2008 saw only 247 Mexican trucks make long haul trips under the program.
Administration Promises Full Inspection Of Every Vehicle
Mary Peters, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told the congressional committee that held hearings concerning the opening of our highways to Mexican trucks in March 2008 that the pilot program would require a thorough inspection of every truck before it crossed the U.S. border. This was in an effort to put to rest any questions of unsafe vehicles entering the country that might contribute to additional 18-wheeler accidents. Critics of the plan, however, doubt that “every truck, every time” could be inspected.
Truck Inspections Raise Several Questions
The current high-volume of traffic flows brings concern that inspection centers lack the space, manpower and technology to monitor and catch problems that would reduce 18-wheeler accidents. There are also significant differences between Mexican and U.S. truck safety standards.
In the United States every truck must meet U.S. safety standards. Public Citizen, a major critic of the Bush pilot program, fears that the Department of Transportation assumes all trucks produced after 1996 that are used by Mexican based companies are built to U.S. standards. Further more, since there is no current, reliable method to verify manufacturing date of Mexican trucks, the DOT is going to just rely on statements from Mexican companies that their trucks meet the criteria.
Drug Testing Concerns
Conducting reliable drug tests on Mexican drivers adds additional concerns. Mexico does not have a drug-testing lab that meets U.S. standards according to Public Citizen. A 2005 drug and alcohol survey related to 18-wheeler accidents, estimated that 1.7% of drivers used controlled substances while driving.
The public advocacy group, The Teamsters Union, the Sierra Club and other trucking and safety interests in the United States charge that the U. S. government doesn’t have enough inspectors at the border to thoroughly check each truck and driver from Mexico making “every truck every time” a hollow promise.
Truck drivers in the U. S. have strict rules regarding the number of hours they can drive without a rest since driver fatigue is a factor in fatal crashes. Truck drivers who spend more than eight hours behind the wheel have twice the chance of an 18-wheeler accident, according to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety from a study they conducted.
It’s Been 15 Years Since NAFTA Was Signed
January 1, 2008 was the date NAFTA went into effect after being signed by Mexico, Canada and The United States. Canadian trucks have freely crossed the border over the past 10 years while Mexican trucks have been blocked. The United States agreed to remove restrictions by 2000 if the Mexican trucks met U.S. standards. There were however disagreements and in 2001 Mexico filed a challenge under NAFTA. They won and the U.S. was forced to open its border to Mexican trucks, but the Bush Administration put into effect the controversial pilot program in September 2007.

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