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Winter Driving Safety Tips

Winter driving on roads and highways in the snow-capped Sierra Nevada can be a pleasant adventure or it can be a frustrating, tiring an sometimes even hazardous undertaking. The California Department of Transportation, Cal/Trans, provides the following information to help make your mountain driving safe and pleasant.

Be Prepared:

  • Before heading to snow country make sure your brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater and exhaust system are in top condition.
  • Check your antifreeze. Be ready for colder temperatures.
  • Check your tires. Make sure the tread is in good condition.
  • ALWAYS carry chains. Even if you have four wheel drive. Four wheel drive components can and do fail and could leave you unable to proceed in your driving. Make sure they are the correct size for the tires on your vehicle and are in working order. Chains must be installed on the drive wheels.
  • Other suggested items to carry in your vehicle are an ice scraper, a broom to brush the snow from your vehicle, a shovel to free your vehicle if “snowed-in”, and some sand or a piece of burlap for traction if your wheels should become mired in snow and an old towel to clean the dirt from your hands.
  • Take along some extra water, food, blankets and clothing. You might have to endure a lengthily delay.
  • Put an extra vehicle key in your pocket. Many motorists have locked themselves out of their vehicles while putting on chains and while visiting ski areas.

Driving Tips

  • Allow enough time. Trips to the mountains can take longer during winter conditions.
  • Keep your fuel tank full. You may have to change your route or be forced to turn back or be caught in a lengthily delay.
  • Keep your windshield and windows clear.
  • Slow down ! Snow and ice make stopping distances far greater than in good weather. Four wheel drive may allow you to “go” better on the snow and even boost your confidence, but it will not help one bit for stopping on the snow and ice.
  • Be more observant. Watch out for the other vehicles.
  • When stalled, stay with your vehicle and try to conserve fuel while maintaining warmth. Be alert to any possible exhaust or carbon monoxide problems.

Chain Control

  • You must stop and put on chains when highway signs indicate chains are required. You can be cited by the CHP and fined if you don’t. There is usually a mile or so between “Chains Required” signs and the check point to install your chains. Chain control areas can change rapidly because of weather conditions.
  • The speed limit when chains are required is 25 mph. Even if you have four wheel drive or are with another vehicle that does, the speed limit is still 25 mph. Speed limits are enforced by radar.
  • When you must put on chains, wait until you can pull completely off the roadway. Do not stop in a traffic lane where you will endanger yourself or impede other traffic.
  • If you use the services of a chain installer, be sure to get a receipt and jot down the installers badge or ID number. Chain installers are private independent business people and are not Cal/Trans employees. Chain installers are not allowed to rent or sell chains.
  • When removing chains, drive beyond the signs reading “End Chain Control” and pull off the roadway so you can safely remove them.

Understand the Chain Control Requirement Levels:

  • R-1: Chains are required on all commercial vehicles (trucks or buses). All other vehicles (cars, pick-ups, vans, etc.) must have either snow tread tires or chains on the drive axle.
  • R-2: Chains are required on all vehicles except four-wheel drives with snow tread tires on all four wheels and provided that tire traction devices for at least one set of drive wheels are carried in or upon the vehicle.
  • R-3: Chains required – ALL VEHICLES- no exceptions.

R-1 & R-2 are the most common conditions. The highway is generally closed before R-3 condition is imposed.

Check road conditions often using the Cal/Trans Highway Information Network.

1-800-427-ROAD (7623)

TDD 1-800-735-2929

When traveling in California snow country, try the Cal/Trans toll free voice activated 800 service, 1-800-427-ROAD (7623). This service is available free from any touch tone phone, cellular phone or pay phone. All other areas outside of California you can dial 916-445-7623 to reach the same service. This Information system provides current information regarding the condition of the California State Highway System. The information provided covers incidents that cause significant delays to the normal flow of traffic such as, but not limited to, full closures, 1-way traffic controls, lane closures, construction, maintenance projects, and emergencies. The following conditions will NOT be found in these reports; normal commute traffic, ramp closures and traffic flow conditions.