Are Snow Chains Legal in New Jersey?

Snow chains on tire at winter road
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Snow is cold, slippery and wet. And when snow falls on roads, it makes the road surface cold, slippery and wet. This can cause accidents and skids. Many drivers look to tire chains, or snow chains, to provide additional traction when road surfaces are slippery or snow-covered.

While it is indisputable that snow chains can prevent accidents, they also can damage roads and cars. Each state weighs for itself the risks and enacts snow chain laws accordingly. New Jersey, like many other states, allows snow chain use only in certain circumstances.

Snow Chains and Cables: The Pros

Anyone who plays sports seriously knows the benefits of cleats. They are considered essential for sports from mountain climbing to soccer because of the traction they provide in ice and snow. Snow chains offer similar benefits, but for vehicles. They are nets of heavy steel links that encase the vehicle's tires and provide extra grip when snow is deep or freezes on the road.

Snow cables function similarly, once they are in place on the tires. They look a bit different, since they are made of steel cable encased in an alloy. Both snow chains and snow tires are available in a range of sizes to fit different tires.

Both snow chains and snow cables can be effective in preventing vehicles from slipping in winter driving conditions. Snow chains are very durable – one pair will last for years – snow cables don't last as long and are less effective. Snow chains are heavier and more difficult to install, but they work better. Don't forget, when snow chains are installed, it is necessary to drive slowly, no more than 30 mph.

Snow Chains: The Cons

Anyone who has ever managed to install snow chains on their tires knows one of the big disadvantages: They aren't easy to put on. The trick is to lay out the chains on the ground in front of the tires and then drive the vehicle onto the chains. This is hardly a snap, and some people have to repeat it several times until the chains are actually in place.

The next step is also difficult. The motorist must reach under the vehicle’s fenders to fasten each chain. Then they proceed at a snail's pace until reaching a clear path of road when they must stop again to remove the chains.

There is also a risk of damage to the vehicle. If a chain breaks and starts hitting the inside of the wheel well, damage is almost certain to occur. And those in charge of highway maintenance say that tire chains damage the roads. This is why a surprising number of states forbid the use of chains on their roads, but New Jersey is not one of them.

Snow Chain Laws in Different States

The 50 states hardly ever agree on anything, but most have seen fit to enact laws about using snow chains on their highways in winter weather. These laws set out when it is legal to use snow chains and whether there is ever a time when it is absolutely required to use them.

Some states permit snow tires only during certain months, for example, from October through April. Others require vehicles to carry snow chains on mountainous roads at certain periods of time.

Some states only require snow tires in a state-declared emergency, announced through posted signage or a state declaration of a snow emergency. Most states leave it up to the driver and have laws that state only that chains may be used if conditions warrant.

For example:

  • In Connecticut, a driver can only use chains from November 15 through April 30, and then only in hazardous weather.

  • In Delaware, the period chains are permitted during a period that starts and ends earlier than Connecticut: October 15 through April 15.

  • In California, there are no specific dates for when chains are allowed. However, signs are posted when chains are required.

  • In Vermont, there traffic committee that decides if use of chains is required. Their use is allowed when required for safety during a time of snow, ice or another condition that might cause slippery highways.

  • Most states allow the use of tire chains when required for safety when the highway is slippery. These states include: Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan (although the law prohibits the chains from coming in direct contact with the road surface), New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin (with the same "no direct contact" law as Michigan).

New Jersey Snow Chain Laws

New Jersey, like the majority of states, allows the use of snow chains when the use of chains is warranted by road conditions. The specific statute is Title 39 Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation Section 39:3-73. This law, as of 2022, provides:

"Motor vehicle tires may be fitted with tire chains of reasonable proportions when roads, streets and highways are slippery, because of rain, snow, ice, oil, manner of construction or other reason."

The statute goes on to limit their use on improved highways to such times when highway conditions make their use necessary for the safety of life or property. However, the law also notes that nobody can use tire chains that are constructed or installed in such a way as "to be likely thrown" and thus endanger a person or property.

Restrictions on Tire Chains in New Jersey

New Jersey law specifies that chains cannot be used “at any time on improved highways when highway conditions do not make such use necessary for the safety of life or property.” And for public safety they cannot be built or installed in a way that may harm any person or property if they are thrown from the tires. So what's a driver to do?

Here are some tips for drivers who use snow chains:

  1. Tire chains should be installed on the drive wheels of the vehicle following the chain manufacturer's instructions. For four-wheel driver vehicles, install four chains.
  2. Purchase chains that are the correct size for the tires.
  3. Use only SAE Class "S" chains.
  4. Try on the chains before actually using them to be sure that they fit the tires.
  5. Carry the tire chains in the trunk during the winter and mount them on the vehicle only when warranted by driving conditions or required by law.
  6. Tighten the chains again after initial installation and after driving the vehicle slowly at least 15 feet.
  7. Accelerate or decelerate slowly.
  8. Drive slowly, within the recommended range provided by the tire chain manufacturer.
  9. If a chain breaks, stop immediately and make necessary repairs.
  10. Remove the chains as soon as the vehicle reaches clear roads.

Laws on Studded Tires

Studded tires serve the same purpose as chains: to provide a vehicle's tires with traction on icy or slippery roads. These are winter tires but most have metal studs (sometimes rubber or plastic studs), not unlike the cleats on the bottom of soccer boots. In a vehicle, the studs protrude from the tires when a vehicle drives on ice, making it easier to keep the vehicle stable.

New Jersey permits the use of studded tires on highways during the winter season. N.J. Admin. Code § 13:20-33.19 provides that studded tires "may not be used on a public highway in New Jersey earlier than November 15 or later than April 1 of any winter season.”