Michigan is well known for its long and brutal winters. In particular, the northern and western portions of the state are susceptible to continuous lake effect snow from Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. This results in several feet of accumulation on top of roads and highways. The non-stop buildup of snow can make it very difficult for municipal salt trucks and snow plows to keep up with. To avoid being trapped in their homes, some Michigan drivers resort to measures such as putting chains or studs on their tires to get through the impassable roads. Is it against the law to install these metal devices to aid with traction? What are the legal consequences?
As a general rule, "[a] person shall not operate on a public highway of this state a vehicle or special mobile equipment which has metal or plastic track or a tire which is equipped with metal that comes in contact with the surface of the road or which has a partial contact of metal or plastic with the surface of the road." MCL 257.710(a). As long as there is a barrier of ice and/or snow between the tire and the asphalt, the law allows the use of studs and "tire chain of reasonable proportion upon a vehicle when required for safety because of snow, ice, or other condition tending to cause a vehicle to skid." MCL 257.710(b).
A tire is not permitted to have "on its periphery a block, stud, flange, cleat, spike, or other protuberance of a material other than rubber which projects beyond the tread of the traction surface of the tire", contrary to MCL 257.710(b), EXCEPT those meeting the following standards:
- "Studs or other traction devices shall not be used unless they wear either concrete or asphalt pavements, typical of those in this state, at a rate not to exceed 25% of the reference standard studded tire." Mich Admin R 247.174.
- "Reference standard studded tire" means size E 78-14, 4-ply, bias construction tubeless snow tire containing 90 studs (kennametal class III (16-3-585)) fixed in 6 rows around the tire with 15 studs in each row. Mich Admin R 247.171(1).
- "Bias construction tire" means a pneumatic tire in which the ply cords extending to the beads are laid at alternate angles substantially less than 90 degrees to the centerline of the tread. Mich Admin R 247.171(2).
Chains, studs and other traction control devices permitted by the rules are subject to the following time restrictions:
- "Traction devices permitted under these rules may be used only between November 15 and April 1 of the succeeding year except in the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula, where, because of extreme winter snow and ice conditions, they may be used between October 1 and May 1 of the succeeding year." Mich Admin R 247.175.
- "Northern Lower Peninsula" means all counties whose southern boundaries are as far or farther north than the southern boundary of Missaukee County. Mich Admin R 247.171(3).
However, these rules and restrictions DO NOT apply to the following:
- "A person may operate on a highway a vehicle which has a pneumatic tire in which wire of .075 inches in diameter or less is embedded if the tire is constructed so that the percent of metal in contact with the highway does not exceed 5% of the total tire area in contact with the roadway, except that during the first 1,000 miles of use or operation of the tire the metal in contact with the highway shall not exceed 20% of the area." MCL 257.710(c). A pneumatic tire meeting this definition is not limited by the time restrictions in Mich Admin R 247.175 and can be used all year around.
- "A person may operate on a highway a vehicle which has a pneumatic tire in which are inserted ice grips or tire studs if the person is a law enforcement officer operating a vehicle owned by a law enforcement agency, a person operating an ambulance, or a United States postal service rural carrier driving a vehicle the rural carrier owns and maintains as a prerequisite to employment in the postal service." MCL 257.710(e). A pneumatic tire meeting this definition is not limited by the time restrictions in Mich Admin R 247.175 and can be used all year around.
Drivers who utilize chains, studs and other permissible traction devices under Michigan law should check their city, township or village ordinances to ensure that there are not local prohibitions on their use, for the rules do not prevent other laws from being more restrictive than the state rules. Mich Admin R 247.173. Many local units of government have a motivation to avoid the use of these tire enhancements because of the cost required to upkeep roads and highways damaged by these studs and chains.
Anyone who violate the laws and rules regarding tire traction devices will be responsible for a civil infraction punishable by a fine. Fortunately, this is a non-moving violation that adds no points to the operator's Michigan driving record.
A person accused of a civil infraction is not required to admit responsibility and can request a formal or informal hearing before a district court judge or magistrate. An experienced traffic attorney can be of assistance during an evidentiary hearing and can convince the judge that the use of the tire chains or studs was within the limits of the rules and statutes. Remember, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor to show that the equipment was not used according to law. If the police officer fails to appear at the hearing, then the charge will likely be dismissed without the need for you to produce any evidence.
If you or a loved one is accused of any traffic violation, do not hesitate to contact the skilled lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.