Travel Tips for Driving in ‘Extreme Conditions’ During the Winter Season

The winter season is upon us, and the snowy and rainy conditions can make for challenging travel as family, friends, food and festive occasions pull Californians all over the state.

“As winter settles in, Californians will start to see a whole new set of extreme conditions,” said Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin. “Please take care out there on the roads, don’t crowd the plows, have patience, give yourself more travel time, and know that we’re hard at work to clear whatever may be standing in your way.”

Below are some recommended actions you can take to reduce the risks to you and your loved ones on the highways. Drivers must use their best judgment in all types of weather.

Know Before You Go:

Before traveling, Caltrans recommends checking weather and road conditions. Caltrans QuickMap is an online resource with real-time traffic flow information, chain control alerts, and closure information. It is available at or you can download it as an app for your phone from Google and Apple. Motorists can also call 511 or the Caltrans Highway Information Network at 1-800-427-ROAD (7623) for travel information.

Winter Driving Tips:

  • Be patient.
  • Give yourself extra time to travel, conditions can add travel time.
  • Reduce your speed to match driving conditions and allow more time to reach your destination. Know that bridges and ramps may be more slippery than the roadway.
  • Keep your electric vehicle batteries charged and your fuel tank full. Bad weather may cause long delays or closures.
  • Turn on your headlights to see and be seen. Be observant and maintain a safe distance behind snow removal equipment. Do not crowd the plow. Do not pass snow plows unless directed to do so by law enforcement or emergency public service personnel.
  • If a traffic signal is out, treat as a stop sign, come to a complete stop, look both ways, and proceed with caution.
  • When driving in fog, reduce your speed and use fog light – makes and models vary. Stay to the right along the white edge line and never stop in the road. If visibility is not adequate, pull off of the roadway when safe to do so.
  • Do not drive through flooded areas. Safely turn around and find another route.
  • If you start sliding on snow or ice, slowly take your foot off the gas pedal and steer in the direction you wish to travel. Do not lock your brake – pump the brakes if needed or apply steady pressure if your vehicle is equipped with anti-lock brakes.
  • Don’t use cruise control.
  • Avoid in-car distractions while driving.
  • If you are stalled, activate your hazard signals and stay with your vehicle. Conserve fuel by periodically turning your engine on and off while maintaining warmth, but be aware of possible exhaust and carbon monoxide issues.
  • If you approach an emergency, maintenance, or any other public service vehicle stopped on the side of the road with flashing lights, move over if safe to do so, or slow down.
  • Winterize your vehicle. Make sure your brakes, windshield wipers, heater/defroster, and exhaust system are in good working order. Make sure fluids are topped-off, especially windshield washer fluid.
  • Make sure your tires are properly inflated and always carry tire chains, even if you think your all-wheel drive car is capable.
  • Pack an emergency kit in your vehicle with the following items: flashlight, blankets, extra clothing, water, snacks, towel, gloves, ice scraper, shovel, broom, sand, and carry a spare key on your person in case you lock yourself out of your vehicle.

Chain Control Information:

All vehicles, including those with four-wheel drive or snow tires, should carry chains when traveling in snowy weather. Highway signs and QuickMap will indicate when chains are required, and drivers must stop and install chains. Motorists should pull off the roadway completely to install them. If you need help, chain installers may be available to assist for a fee. Please note, chain installers are not Caltrans employees. They are independent business people who are licensed to install chains. Once chains are installed, obey the speed limit of 25 or 30 miles per hour, posted at various locations.

Chain Control Levels:

  • R-1: Chains, traction devices or snow tires with proper tread depth of 6/32″ are required on the drive axle of all vehicles except four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicles.
  • R-2: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles except four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicles with snow-tread tires on all four wheels. NOTE: Four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicles must carry traction devices in chain control areas.
  • R-3: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions. NOTE: R-1 and R-2 are the most common chain controls. The highway will usually be closed before an R-3 control is imposed)

For more information on winter driving, chain controls, and additional resources, visit Caltrans Winter Driving Tips page. Please be safe out there California.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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