Colorado Cracks Down on Commercial Drivers

by Jana Ritter - Published: 6/20/2013

Tractor-trailer drivers who try to illegally use Independence Pass this summer could find themselves with a mandatory court appearance as law enforcement tries to crack down on this frequent and dangerous practice. Now, when Colorado State Patrol troopers ticket a trucker for careless driving, it can also force the driver to appear in court, said Capt. Richard Duran. “It's something new we're trying for this year, in cooperation with the [district attorney's] office in Aspen and the sheriff's office,” he said.

Colorado forest

Trucks longer than 35 feet have long been prohibited on Independence Pass, which is famous for its views and infamous for stretches that are narrow, treacherous, or both. In some spots, there's literally no room for a semi and cars traveling the opposite direction, forcing smaller vehicles to back up — which in turn jams up traffic — or risk an accident like the one that occurred last Wednesday. An 18-wheeler was headed east on Highway 82 near the Grottos on Independence Pass, when it collided with two cars driving westbound. Although the accident caused major damage to one of the vehicles, no one was injured in the accident. The driver of the semi was from Tennessee and said that his GPS routed him over the pass.

Pitkin County sheriff's deputy Adam Crider said he responded to a pass call on June 6 and found a driver who was on a pass section called the Narrows, scared out of his wits.
 “He was really glad to see me,” Crider said. The driver was carrying more than a ton of roofing tar above one of the valley's most pristine areas and told Crider that he had consulted a map that didn't indicate the truck closure and that he had also consulted state transportation staff who he said gave him erroneous information. Whether the driver saw them or not, there are signs on both sides of the pass clearly indicating the 35-foot prohibition.

Most truck drivers caught using the pass previously faced only a ticket for failing to obey traffic signs that spell out the 35-foot restriction. While such a ticket comes with a $113.50 fine, court costs that bump up the total expense to around $200, and four points against the driver's commercial license. But drivers have told authorities that the time and miles saved by using the pass make the risk worth it. Forcing them to return to Aspen for a court hearing could change that perception and a careless driving ticket may have more ramifications for a driver's commercial license.

Aspen prosecutor Jason Slothouber said such drivers pose a significant danger to other motorists and the area's natural beauty. “We will be seeking personal appearances for commercial truck drivers cited for careless driving in the pass, and will not typically be offering plea deals to reduce those charges,” he said.

In the meantime, police hope the word spreads among drivers about the mandatory court appearances.