Tips on Maneuvering Mountain Roads

Whether it’s sharing the road with bicyclists during the summer or using four wheel drive or chains in winter, even seasoned drivers will tell you mountain driving isn’t the flat lands with its share of switch backs and blind spots, steep hills and wildlife.

Weather conditions change how we drive Sierra roads and in winter chains and snow tires is certainly a given factor when crossing mountain passes in snowy conditions. Caltrans and the Nevada Department of Transportation are good places to start before you even hit the road with up to the minute reports on travel conditions.

Here are number of tips from Caltrans and NDOT on maneuvering mountain roads

  • Make sure that your brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater and exhaust systems are in good condition.
  • Don’t go down a mountain road any faster than you can go up it. Do not slam on brakes. Instead apply steady pressure on vehicles with anti-lock brakes and pump the brakes if necessary on vehicles aren’t equipped with anti-lock brakes.
  • Vehicles often build up speed moving down a steep hill. Use a low gear to help slow your vehicle down. Don’t drive in neutral or with your foot on the clutch. Check traffic through your mirrors. Be alert for large trucks and buses that may be going too fast. In some places, you will see a sign warning of a steep hill as shown in this figure.
  • When ascending on a steep hill, maintain a steady speed by applying more pressure on the accelerator.
  • Don’t “hug” the center line.
  • If weather conditions deteriorate slow down, be more observant and demonstrate extra road courtesy. If other drivers appear to be in a hurry, let them pass — it may be an emergency.
  • Remove snow and ice from all vehicle windows, mirrors, lights, turn signals and license plates.
  • Reduce speed. Speed limits are based on normal road and weather conditions, not winter road conditions. And just because you’re in an SUV doesn’t mean that the added weight will keep you more grounded.
  • Many accidents involving SUVs happen because motorists tend to believe they can navigate the roads just as good with snow on them as without.
  • Don’t panic if you find yourself beginning to slide on snow or ice.
  • To negotiate out of this, take your foot off the gas and do not hit your brakes. Steer the front of your vehicle in the direction you wish to travel. If you must use the brakes, do not allow them to lock up.
  • Even though the roads look clear, what you see may be deceptive black ice. Many people get into trouble by assuming the roads will not be slippery unless the temperature is freezing or below. Ice forms on road surfaces anytime the air temperature drops below 40 degrees, especially when it’s windy. Bridges and underpasses can be especially hazardous as well as low or shaded areas that don’t get enough sunlight to melt icy spots. Late night and early morning hours are especially dangerous since water accumulates and freezes.
  • Windshield wipers must be in good working order and washing fluid must be filled. During storms, maintaining clean windows is essential to mountain driving. During cold weather, turn on the vehicle’s defrosters. And keep in mind that passing vehicles can and do spray mud and slush.
  • As you’re driving in the mountains, be more observant. Visibility is limited because of sharp turns, corners and the roads are only made worse during poor weather. Slow down and keep a constant watch for other vehicles and snow removal equipment. If you are following snow removal equipment, maintain a safe distance and watch for chunks of ice and other debris.

Safe Travels!

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One Response to Tips on Maneuvering Mountain Roads

  1. Jes says:

    These are great tips for those of us who don’t drive in the mountains daily. Thanks!

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