Driving safely on snow and ice

Jan 20, 2021 | Uncategorized

By Douglas W. Motley
Senior Writer

As winter weather returns to the mountaintop area, both the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and Caltrans want to remind motorists of the many hazards related to wintertime driving, particularly when driving on snow and ice.

First of all, since your chances of causing an accident or being involved in one are greatly magnified by slippery road conditions, you’ve got to ask yourself whether your journey is really necessary. If you have heat and your pantry and refrigerator are well stocked and you don’t really have to be anywhere in particular, you might be better off staying right where you are.

Secondly, if you must venture out, make sure your vehicle is properly equipped for driving on snow and ice. The CHP advises all mountain motorists to carry snow chains or cables with them at all times during the winter and to use them whenever necessary or required.

“The best place to put on chains is in your driveway,” CHP Officer Benjamin Baker told The Alpine Mountaineer. By doing so, he said, motorists can make sure their chains are properly fitted. Baker also recommends that motorists keep their gas tanks at least half full at all times during the winter. This is to avoid the possibility of running out of fuel during unpredictable delays caused by other motorists who may spin out or become stuck in the snow. He also recommends wearing warm clothing, carrying an extra set of clothes, a blanket and a shovel just in case you get stuck in the snow yourself.

If you are already on the road and encounter snow or icy conditions that make driving dangerous, it’s best to pull over, into a turnout or road shoulder that’s wide enough for you to safely install chains or cables, advised Lt. Tel Preszler, the former Running Springs CHP Office commander. “Try to get out of the main lane of travel, where you’re not exposed to traffic. Too many people stop in the lane of traffic. This is a disaster waiting to happen.”

For your own safety, and as a courtesy to other drivers, it’s always a good idea to remove any snow or ice that’s still clinging to your vehicle’s hood, rooftop, windshield, windows and side mirrors before you leave your driveway. Think about it: How many times have you been driving down the road, only to have a sheet of ice fly off of your car, onto the highway or onto the car behind you?

Even scarier is the prospect of slowing down or coming to a stop, only to have a sheet of ice slide onto your windshield, completely blocking your view. Not only is this situation a safety issue, the California Vehicle Code (VC26708) specifically prohibits driving with an obstructed view caused by snow or ice.

Caltrans officials recommend keeping three car lengths away from the vehicle in front of you. This is important because the distance required to stop on ice is twice as long as on a dry surface. “Never brake suddenly while driving on ice; use brakes lightly,” said Caltrans spokeswoman Terri Kasinga.

If you start sliding sideways, hitting the brakes won’t help, warned Lt. Preszler. Despite the natural inclination to turn in the opposite direction of the slide, this will not help, either, as momentum will assure that your vehicle just continues sliding in the direction it’s moving.

“Instead,” said Preszler, “turn in the direction of the slide. If the rear of your vehicle is sliding to the right, steer to the right; your front end will swing back to the right and the front tires will regain their grip on the road.” Conversely, said Preszler, if the rear of your vehicle starts sliding to the left, steer to the left until you regain control.

Both Caltrans and the CHP advise that driving too fast on snow or ice can cause you to lose control. “Reduce your speed before approaching a curve and avoid sudden acceleration or deceleration,” warns Caltrans’ Kasinga. “Slow down, keep a space cushion between vehicles and keep both hands on the steering wheel. You can’t do 40 or 50 on the Rim when it’s covered in snow or ice,” Preszler added.

Black ice is especially hazardous and often surprises motorists because it blends in with the road surface, making it hard to see. Pointing out that black ice can form on any road surface that is not subject to direct sunlight, Kasinga urges drivers to slow down when approaching shady areas. Preszler reminds that many of the bridges on mountain highways are often covered with a thin sheet of black ice.

CHP Public Affairs Officer Jacob Griede advises wintertime motorists to carry snow chains in their vehicle, even if they have 4-wheel-drive and snow tires, and to chain up when necessary. “Motorists are advised to drive slow on mountain roads during the winter and carry extra blankets, water and snacks in case they get stuck in snow.”

When installing chains, cautions Kasinga, make sure they’re on the drive tires. If you’re not sure whether your car is a front-wheel or rear-wheel drive vehicle, refer to your owner’s manual or contact the dealer for specific instructions. “It is crucial to put the chains on the proper tires,” she said, adding that it’s important to make sure that all four tires have good tread and are properly inflated.

“Be especially aware of your surroundings, including other drivers that may be losing control on the roadway,” said Kasinga, who urged motorists to be courteous to other drivers and to be aware of driving conditions before making their trip.



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