wsdot winter2023

Studded tires allowed in Washington from Nov. 1 to March 31; stud-free winter tire alternatives are legal year-round

OLYMPIA – All right stop, collaborate (with fellow travelers) and listen: because winter’s on its way with some snow and icy conditions. There’s nothing vanilla about how road crews prep for winter weather – including pre-treating and plowing – but the traveling public also can help by being prepared for changing driving conditions. And with or without a ’90s music playlist, the Washington State Department of Transportation has tips on how stay safe and keep everyone moving this wintertime.

“Many mountain pass closures, for example, are due to driver behavior, including going too fast for winter weather, inattentiveness or failing to have proper equipment like chains,” said WSDOT Maintenance Operations Manager James Morin. “We need everyone doing their part to help keep passes and roadways open and traffic moving. That includes planning their trips accordingly for weather and possible closures and staying up-to-date using WSDOT’s online tools.”

Check out WSDOT's winter driving web page for more tips and information. WSDOT also asks travelers to always "know before you go" and get the most up-to-date roadway information before heading out. I t’s also important for motorists to remember to slow down, increase their following distance and be alert for people using crosswalks or bike lanes, as they may be harder to see due to inclement weather.

Know before you go:

  • Download the free WSDOT mobile app for your Apple or Android phone or device.
  • Sign up for email and/or text updates about road conditions – or sign up to receive text message alerts about significant delays on Snoqualmie Pass by texting the number 468311 with the words "WSDOT Snoqualmie."
  • Follow WSDOT across a variety of social media platforms including Facebook , Threads , several X/Twitter accounts, Instagram and TikTok .
  • Check current traction and chain requirements for mountain passes, which are also available on highway-advisory signs and highway-advisory radio.
  • Pre-program your vehicle radio to 530 AM and 1610 AM for highway advisory radio alerts – and be alert for other stations listed on notice signs in some areas.
  • Use the online real-time travel map to check conditions locally and statewide before heading out.
  • Review what to carry in your vehicle, including a winter driving supply checklist: https://wsdot.com/travel/real-time/mountainpasses/winterdrivingtips

Winter preparations and improved staffing levels
Winter-specific training for highway maintenance workers is underway across the state as teams ramp up and begin staffing crews around-the-clock for winter storms. Staffing levels for the positions most directly involved in snow and ice work have improved since last winter thanks to ongoing recruitment and many maintenance teams have returned to pre-pandemic staffing. As in years past, crews will “swarm to the storm” and move available resources to most affected areas or priority routes during storms.

Despite increased hires, the national shortage of applicants with commercial driver’s licenses remains an issue for WSDOT and all state DOTs, and some shortages do remain in certain areas. WSDOT remains committed to recruitment and retention of road workers with CDLs, including paying for specialized training as well as the mechanics who keep trucks, plows and other equipment working. Visit www.wsdotjobs.com and search “highway maintenance worker” in the field bar for more information on permanent and seasonal openings.

Studded tires and other options
By law , studded tires are legal for use in Washington state only from Nov. 1 through March 31. This applies to all vehicles in Washington, even those traveling from other states, and no personal exemptions or waivers exist. Studded tires do not meet a posted chain requirement. Drivers still need to install chains over studded tires to proceed in areas posted for chains.

WSDOT estimates studded tires cause between $20 million and $29 million in pavement damage to state-owned asphalt and concrete roadways each year. Motorists are encouraged to visit a tire dealer to learn about options, including stud-free, winter tread traction tires. This aggressive tread tire is different than an all-season tire, is legal year-round and does not cause the same roadway damage as studded tires.

Chains and alternatives
All travelers are reminded to prepare for changing weather conditions and avoid a costly ticket by carrying chains or approved alternatives whenever crossing mountain passes. Failure to obey a tire chains sign can mean a ticket of up to $500. Special chain enforcement patrols by WSP will keep an eye on mountain passes this winter.

WSDOT also encourages travelers to practice installing chains before heading out to develop a familiarity before having to install in winter conditions. Any tire becomes a traction tire when chains are installed.

Although some vehicle manufacturers recommend against the use of tire chains for certain models, that doesn’t excuse travelers from state traction device laws. These requirements exist to help keep all traffic moving safely during extreme winter conditions. The Washington State Patrol provides a list of state-approved alternative traction devices on its vehicle equipment webpage under “traction tires.” These approved alternatives can be used when chains are required.