Traffic laws in Cottonwood canyons frustrate drivers

Feb 10, 2023, 7:03 PM | Updated: Apr 17, 2023, 2:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been a winter full of snowstorms and powder days, but also a season of traffic headaches for drivers in the Cottonwood canyons.

Some of the frustrations have focused on Utah’s traction law, which requires that during winter driving conditions vehicles have appropriate traction devices.

Four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles must also have mud and snow tires or chains. Two-wheel drive vehicles must have snow tires (3PMSF) or chains.

On Monday, Sean Zahm went to social media to share his concerns about the lack of enforcement of the traction law in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

“Not a single tire checked,” he said in his Instagram post. “I’m going to be up here all day and stuck because someone’s going to slide off.”

In an interview with KSL, Zahm, a professional snowboard instructor, said it just takes one vehicle to cause a traffic nightmare or a danger for everyone else.

“Many people who have the wrong vehicles and everything, they don’t know that they can’t just pull to the side of the road and put their hazards on,” he said.

Zahm wondered why he went through the pre-inspection process to receive a sticker from the Utah Department of Transportation to show that his vehicle has the proper traction devices for the canyons.

“There needs to be enforcement,” he said. “I mean, if we’re lining up outside the canyon for hours, maybe they can check tires while we’re waiting.”

A spokesperson for Unified Police Department, which patrols the canyons, said they understand the problems caused by ill-prepared vehicles traveling in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons during snowstorms.

“We absolutely share your frustration,” said Sgt. Melody Cutler.

However, Cutler said it’s not realistic and that the agency does not have the staffing to check each vehicle.

“Three to five minutes per vehicle,” Cutler said. “So the traffic that that would cause is going to be much more significant than the one with people just traveling up the canyon.”

But enforcement of the traction law is happening in the form of tickets.

“If there’s a slide-off and you are in violation of a traction [law], you are getting a citation—no question asked,” Cutler said.

Both sides said another issue is that the traction law only goes into effect for current winter conditions not predicted storms.

“Like today, you can drive any vehicle you want up this canyon and it’s not a problem,” Cutler said on Friday, which had sunny weather. “Even if there’s a forecast that in two hours from now we’re going to have a giant snowstorm. So you go up the canyon with your two-wheel drive vehicle and bald tires and it starts to snow.”

Cutler said not to assume that your SUV is four-wheel, or all-wheel drive. She said the issue is further complicated by visitors with rental cars or people using rideshare to get to the ski resorts.

“If you are visiting from out-of-town and renting a vehicle, check with the rental company to verify that your vehicle is equipped with four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) and the correct tires,” said UDOT’s website.



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Traffic laws in Cottonwood canyons frustrate drivers