We associate California with sun-kissed beaches and orange groves, not ice and snow. However, the state is huge and subject to a variety of harsh weather conditions. And the highway patrol there insists on tire chains in some snowy areas, but were left unimpressed by one driver’s odd contraptions.
Given the challenging driving conditions during winter, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) takes its job very seriously. Lots of inexperienced drivers head out of the warm streets in cities such as Los Angeles, unprepared for how difficult the mountain roads can be. As a result, a strict tire chain policy is necessary for safety.
Too many drivers nonetheless attempt a journey without chains, breaking the law in the process. The CHP consequently sets up checkpoints to monitor traffic and make sure that motorists are fitting their tire chains. Without them, cars can slide into snowbanks and off the road entirely, which is a dangerous proposition.
Most vehicles require tire-chains during the cold times of the year. And the heavier the snow, the more types of vehicles need to fit them. The highest warning category requires all vehicles to have chains on all wheels. The CHP lists the different categories on signs to make motorists aware of when it’s time to put them on.
Between November and April, drivers in California need to have chains in their cars when they’re inside a control area. And that’s the case regardless of whether it’s snowing or not. This is because the weather can change quickly in the mountains and therefore easily leave a car without chains stranded.
If officers discover that a motorist does not have chains at the check points, the punishment can be severe. It can include a fine, and the officer in question may decide that you cannot proceed at all, depending on the conditions. In that case, they may insist on having your car towed back to a safer road.
With all this in mind, officers at a checkpoint in Truckee, California, were astounded to discover one driver’s novel interpretation the law. In this case, the motorist had used a form of zip ties wrapped around the tires, in lieu of chains. And the officers were quick to post about the incident on Facebook.
Alongside a photo of the tires, the post read, “Can officially say we have never seen this before. Seriously don’t be this guy! Zip ties!” The zip ties were orange, with long excess pieces stretching out for a good few inches away from the vehicle.
As it turned out, these zip ties weren’t the regular store-bought kind. They are manufactured by ZipGripGo, a crowdfunded outfit that make inexpensive, easy-to-fit chain replacements. However, they are made from plastic and are marketed as an emergency alternative to standard traction aids.
Truckee officers explained that although the zip ties might be useful for getting a car unstuck, they were unsuitable for highway use. “Not for driving on the highway,” the Facebook post explained. “We have never seen anyone try to go through chain control with these before.”
ZipGripGo began life in 2015 as a project on the popular crowdfunding portal, Kickstarter. The project description read, “Our goal was to develop a product that can easily allow you to use your own vehicles power to get you unstuck and back on your way.”
And the crowdfunding window ended in success. The product’s creators subsequently posted a grateful message, thanking their backers for the support and promising to consider new suggestions and ideas. “It’s been quite a ride!” it read. “The entire campaign has been a blast.”
Although the company espouses the benefits of using ZipGripGo, it does not state that the ties are a full replacement for chains. That said, its site does mention the durability of the “specially engineered grade material.” This could be why the motorist stopped at Truckee made his mistake.
Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be any mention on the company’s website of ZipGripGo’s legal status across the United States, although perhaps that’s because it’s a relatively new product. The CHP Truckee officers were firm in their response, explaining that it would be illegal to use the products as chains in California. The zip ties are to be used for getting unstuck, not driving with.
CHP Truckee’s Facebook page regularly features drivers who are either out of their depth or unprepared for the conditions. In fact, officers recently posted a picture of a Subaru, submerged in snowmelt at the side of the road. The car had allegedly been going too fast.
“Would you look at that! Subarus can swim. It’s all wheel drive not all wheel boat,” the post read, adding that drivers should be more cautious. “Make sure to slow down going over Donner Summit. Still wet and slippery out there.”
CHP Truckee even have a mascot to further their aim of educating the local population about driving conditions. It’s a Christmas elf called Gunter and was featured in a variety of posts over the festive period aimed at warning motorists. He was even pictured at a chain control checkpoint.
The CHP have had serious challenges to contend with recently. After terrible wildfires caused damage across California, mudslides then occurred. Falling rocks and debris made several roads impassable and even cost people their lives.
A seven-mile portion of Highway 101 was closed as a result of the mudslides. Consequently, for the 80,000 or so vehicles that use the highway on a daily basis, it was tough finding alternate routes. The problem was so severe, in fact, that the CHP actually suggested that motorists travel by train or ferry, rather than by road.
“Again, we just ask for your patience,” Captain Cindy Pontes of the CHP told The New York Times. “We know that emotions are running really high right now and people are really upset about the 101 being closed – we are, too. We want it to be open because it has an effect on everyone.”