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State police will be giving tickets over tire chains.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

Oregon State Police are using saturation-patrol tactics to inspire commercial truck drivers to prepare for winter driving in the state's dangerous and often icy passes.

Today, state troopers are at Willamette Pass on Highway 58 and four other mountain passes handing out $111 to $141 tickets to tractor-trailer drivers who fail to carry snow chains.

Though the mountain skies were forecast to be blue and the pavement dry - a high pressure ridge is pushing the freezing air up past 12,000 feet - state law requires drivers to carry chains.

This snow-chain patrol is the latest of the Oregon State Police's regular thematic stings. In recent years, the agency has used intensive but short statewide crackdowns to target seat belts, speeders and drunken drivers.

The agency has $39,000 from the state Transportation Department for 640 overtime hours to pay officers for the special focus patrols. Officials say they'll use 60 hours today and spread the remaining hours across the winter.

The idea is prevention, said Sgt. Lang Hinkle of the Oakridge detachment. It's to get the industry's attention before the blizzards come.

Last year, a similar blitz stopped 150 commercial trucks and found that about 20 percent of them were without proper chains.

"You're talking with these guys as they're chaining up and you find out, gosh, they really need six chains, and what they have is four - and two of those don't fit or are broken," Hinkle said.

Troopers find if they conduct a prominent crackdown when the weather gets crisp, a few days later they see trucks with shiny new snow chains swaying from their frames, ready for use.

"That CB radio works pretty good," Hinkle said.

"Word gets out that OSP is serious about this: We'd better have our chains with us and they'd better fit."

Chaining up is a big deal, police say. Each year in Oregon, an average of 26 people die on ice- or snow-slicked streets, and 36 more are injured.

This season's winter crashes began traumatically Nov. 3 on Highway 26 near Government Camp, in the Cascades southeast of Portland.

A Suzuki SUV slid on the snowy highway and collided head on with a tractor-trailer. A 46-year-old grandmother died at the scene. Her 5-year-old grandson, sitting on a booster seat next to her, was badly injured.

The wintertime crashes are also a source of great frustration when the roads are blocked and skiers can't get to the slopes or truckers can't meet their time schedules.

So prevention is "a good thing," Hinkle said. "Mom and Dad and the kids who want to play in the snow. They're not waiting for two hours for us to clear up a jackknifed semi."

Oregon's chain rules come in three levels and apply to passenger and commercial vehicles equally.

The first level is "carry chains." It begins when ODOT determines that the first snows are at hand and it remains the rule until winter weather is over. The "carry chains" requirement is in force now, so trucks and passenger cars need to carry them where it's snowy.

The second level requires heavy commercial vehicles to chain up, although passenger vehicles don't need to.

The third level requires every vehicle to chain up. Truckers caught ignoring that requirement face a $493 fine if the officer writing the ticket believes they've created a "substantial risk."

Small, four-wheel-drive passenger pickup trucks can create quite a bit of trouble, too, because drivers tend to get overconfident, Sgt. Alan Hageman said.

Also, four-wheel-drive SUVs don't necessarily stop on snow any better than two-wheel-drive cars, Hageman said.

The ticket for speeding is $94 to $105, unless the speeder is involved in a crash, and then the sum jumps to $237 to $273.

Mountain pass drivers can get a ticket even if they don't speed. The standard is "reasonable and prudent" instead of a miles-per-hour figure, Hageman said.

"If the surface is covered with snow, the posted speed is too high," he said. "Allow yourself a lot of extra time.

`What you don't want is to find yourself with a sense of urgency under those conditions."

Regional long-haul trucking companies, meanwhile, say they are ready for the white stuff. Harrisburg-based Sherman Brothers, leaves chains hanging on their trucks all year to avoid the last-minute winter rush, operations manager Jason Muggy said.

The company, which sends its 300 trucks to 48 states, requires drivers to practice putting on the chains in September. That ensures that even if they've changed tires during the year, the chains will still fit once winter hits.

At Coburg and Brownsville- based Ram Trucking, the drivers all have their chains ready by Nov. 1 - because Washington state requires them to carry chains by that date, whatever the conditions.

"It's just a matter of being responsible and being prepared," company President Dale Latimer said.

Slick road toll

Snow and ice play a role in serious accidents on Oregon roads. Here are fatalities and injuries in crashes in the state in which snow or ice were a factor:

2004: 20 deaths, 30 injuries

2003: 31 deaths, 29 injuries

2002: 28 deaths, 46 injuries

2001: 27 deaths 31 injuries

2000: 26 deaths, 45 injuries

- Source: Oregon Department of Transportation

BE PREPARED

Check highway conditions: www .tripcheck.com or dial 511 or call (800) 977-6368

Extensive climate and weather data: geography. uoregon.edu/weather/

Ski forecast: oregon .skireport.com/ willamettepass/weather/
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Title Annotation:Transportation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 15, 2005
Words:901
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