Are you enjoying the snow and wintry weather? The slopes are open, the powder is fresh, and the sledding is in full force. But before you go, here are some safety and driving tips.
Last month, I was able to go on a ride-along with Officer Justice Jones, who is an expert on snow travel and is one of the CHP Shaver Lake resident post officers. Here is a question-and-answer about traveling to the mountains during the winter months.
When do I need to carry chains? When traveling to regions where snow is a possibility a driver must always carry chains or cables. All vehicles are required to carry chains, even 4-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles.
When do you need to put chains or cables on? When the signs say to do so. On state highways, Caltrans sets the conditions for when chains are required and notifies drivers with chain signs. Caltrans has chain signs along state highways that it activates as conditions change. It simply turns on the signs as needed.
The most common condition in our area is called R-2, when chains are required on two-wheel-drive vehicles only. If you have a four-wheel-drive or an all-wheel drive, you still are required to carry chains, as they may be necessary if you do not have enough traction, your tires are worn, or you have to travel up a steep driveway. Remember, when you are driving in snowy conditions, you are essentially driving on top of a sheet of ice.
Slow down. The sign may say 25 mph, but the safe speed may be considerably less than that.
Don’t wait too long to put chains on your vehicle. There are three things we don’t have much of in the mountains: straight roads, wide shoulders and flat ground. Chain signs and inspections are placed strategically where there is enough room to allow people to “chain up.” If you wait until the road is covered in snow and you are losing traction, you’ve waited too long. With the exception of Yosemite, most areas do not have staffed chain installers at chain inspection checkpoints.
Which tires do the chains go on? Chains or cables go on the drive tires of your vehicle. For most small sedans with front wheel drive, these are the front tires. For most pickups, it would be the rear tires.
Chains and cables need to fit tightly on the tire. Many chains and cables include a bungee cord to maintain tension on the chain. If you’re not sure, you can check your owner’s manual on proper installation.
Don’t wait until you are in the snow to learn how to put chains on your vehicle. There’s a good chance it will be cold, rainy and snowy when you need to put them on. You’ll probably have friends or family in the car waiting. Practice at home before you go. You don’t want to be two hours from home in a snow storm when you realize your chains don’t fit.
How do you know if your chains are on right? They should be snug and shouldn’t make excessive noise. If you’re hearing a slapping noise they’re not on correctly and can damage your car. It’s a good idea to put them on, drive a short distance, and re-tighten them.
Remember, when putting chains or cables on, pull completely off the roadway and onto the shoulder. One of our biggest hazards is from folks who wait too long to chain up and are forced to stop where they are in the lanes. This causes all vehicles behind you to stop, and if you are stopped, so are the snow plows trying to keep the roads clear.
I want to take my family to the snow. Where should we go? Remember, if you’re just going to play, parking is limited in most mountain areas. There are several Sno Parks in the Shaver Lake area, which have parking lots and restroom facilities. Day-use permits can be purchased online or at local shops in the Shaver Lake area for $5. There are no kiosks at the parks for a permit to be bought.
The Sno Park permits are enforced and the fine is $94. Most of the local ski resorts also have tube runs and play areas with ample parking.
Officer Jones would like to leave all of us heading to the winter wonderland with some great advice. Be prepared ahead of time. Make sure you have chains that fit and practice installing them. Expect to install them in cold and wet weather. Bring something to kneel on.
Check the weather when you plan to travel. If you don’t have to travel during a storm, stay home. Keep a full tank of gas and snacks in your car in case you encounter delays.
When you drive in the mountains, use the turnouts when necessary. Keep kids comfortably dressed until you get where you are going. Watching movies in the car on curvy roads is a recipe for car sickness for many children. Have them look out the window and see the beauty all around them. Bring dry clothes for the ride home. Jammies work best, as they’ll be tuckered out and asleep for most of the ride home.
Have a great time everyone and enjoy the snow.