Driving Safe in Winter Weather Conditions


Driving can be dangerous in the best of weather conditions. But when snowstorms, mudslides, torrential rain, and high winds occur, drivers can be much more prone to committing roadway errors that lead to car accidents.

Drivers are always encouraged to be alert, safe and aware of their surroundings during normal conditions and this advice is even more important during inclement weather.

During a storm, try to avoid unnecessary driving. If you must be on the roads, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) provided tips for driving safely in extreme weather conditions to help you stay safe.

Rain and Wind:

    • As a rule, don’t drive in water if you can’t see road markings. A vehicle can float in just one foot of water. It’s safer to turn around and find another route.
    • Try to stay in the middle lane where flooding is less likely.
    • Drive in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you. This allows the vehicle ahead to displace any standing water that’s on the road.
    • Reduce speed and allow extra space between vehicles.
    • Keep both hands on the steering wheel.
    • Keep an eye on high profile vehicles such as large trucks and buses during windy conditions.
    • If side winds occur while driving, steer your vehicle gently and slowly in the opposite direction.
    • If your vehicle starts to hydroplane, take your foot off the gas pedal, but don’t push hard on the brakes. Instead, apply the brakes in a steady manner and steer in the direction of the skid. For vehicles with anti-lock brakes, apply more pressure to the brakes, but avoid pumping them.
    • After driving through a puddle, tap the brake pedal to help dry out the brake pads.
    • Turn on headlights.
    • Make sure your windshield wipers are in good condition.


    • Allow enough time. Trips to the mountains can take longer during winter than other times of the year, especially if you encounter storm conditions or icy roads. Get an early start and allow plenty of time to reach your destination.
    • Keep your gas tank full. It may be necessary to change routes or turn back during a bad storm or you may be caught in a traffic delay.
    • Keep windshield and windows clear. You may want to stop at a safe turnout to use a snow brush or scraper. Use the car defroster and a clean cloth to keep the windows free of fog.
    • Slow down. A highway speed of 65 miles per hour may be safe in dry weather, but an invitation for trouble on snow and ice. Snow and ice make stopping distances much longer, so keep your seat belt buckled and leave more distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead. Bridge decks and shady spots can be icy when other areas are not. Remember to avoid sudden stops and quick direction changes.
    • Be more observant. Visibility is often limited in winter by weather conditions. Slow down and watch for other vehicles that have flashing lights, visibility may be so restricted during a storm that it is difficult to see the slow-moving equipment.
    • When stalled, stay with your vehicle, and try to conserve fuel while maintaining warmth. Be alert to any possible exhaust or monoxide problems.
    • Give snowplows room to work. A “strike team” may include several plow trucks, including Tow Plows and wing plows using multiple lanes on a major highway. Stay at least four (4) car lengths back from snowplows and snow removal equipment.
    • Salt brine trucks as well as sand and cinder spreading trucks have signs saying, “Stay Back”. This is for your safety since material can be spread/sprayed across multiple lanes.
    • Equipment operators must focus on snow removal and cannot always watch out for motorists. Refrain from, or use extreme caution, when passing snow removal equipment.

Car Emergency Kit:

In case you get stranded, keep an emergency supply kit in your car with these extras:

    • Jumper cables
    • Flares or reflective triangle
    • Ice scraper
    • Car cell phone charger
    • Blanket
    • Map
    • Cat litter or sand (for better tire traction)

Know Before You Go

Unpredictable weather also means road conditions and routes are subject to change as quickly as the weather does. QuickMap is a reliable source from Caltrans with the latest conditions such as closures, detours and more. Drivers are encouraged to download the free QuickMap mobile app to have road conditions in the palm of their hands. Road conditions are also available online at quickmap.dot.ca.gov.

Additional Resources:

Cal OES: Be Winter Wise

National Weather Service: National Weather Service

Check hazards in your area: Home Page – Cal MyHazards