Driving in Inclement Weather

Now that winter is fully upon us we should be seeing more inclement weather, which means more dangerous driving conditions for motorists. As motorists we can make travel during inclement weather safer by taking a few simple steps. Coupled by some of the recent storms and holiday traffic, I think this would be a great topic for discussion in this week's article.

It is common knowledge that wet pavement will affect the ability of a driver to stop a motor vehicle. The same logic applies to roadways that are covered with snow and ice; therefore, one of the most significant factors in reducing collisions during inclement weather is traveling at a speed that is safe for conditions. For example there are sections of Highway 36 in the Mineral area that have a posted 55 mile per hour (MPH) speed limit. However, if the roadway has snow on it, 55 MPH may not be a safe speed. Not all drivers are comfortable driving in inclement weather. Some drivers will tend to drive at speed far less than the posted speed limit and should monitor the traffic following behind them. If the driver of a slower moving vehicle has five or more vehicles in a line behind them section 21656 of the California Vehicle Code requires the driver to use the first available turnout to allow traffic to safely pass.

Driving in rainy or snowing conditions can also have an effect on a driver's visibility. The one piece of safety equipment we donít regularly check is our vehicle's windshield wipers until we turn them on and find out they either don't work properly or donít work at all. There are a variety of products that can be applied to glass windshields that help repel water and increase visibly. These products are not a substitute for windshield wipers, which are required by law on all vehicles with the exception of motorcycles built after 1949. Headlamps are also important for visibility during inclement weather. A recent law went into effect that requires the use of headlamps during inclement weather that would require the continuous use of the vehicle's windshield wipers per section 24400 of the California Vehicle Code.

Another piece of equipment that can affect the stopping, starting, turning, and over maneuverability of a vehicle is the tires. There are many types of tires on the market and some are specifically designed for mud and snow. Others are designed for driving on the roadway. Knowing whether you have mud and snow tires or all season radials will help determine a vehicle's suitability for driving in inclement weather.

If you do plan on traveling through the Sierras or taking another mountain pass be sure to carry snow chains that are the proper size for your car. During snow storms it is not unusual for Cal-Trans to place "chain requirements" on all vehicles that are not four-wheel-drive with snow tires. If you are traveling into the mountains, check the road and weather conditions to see if any such restrictions are posted on your route. Do not stop at posted chain controls and wait for conditions to clear. If you don't have the required chain devices for the roadway modifications then find a safe place to stop, turn around, and head back in the other direction! Stopping on the roadway can create a hazard to you, to oncoming motorists and obstacles for snow plows.

When I worked for the Plumas County Sheriff's Office I did a lot of driving in inclement weather, which included driving on snow and ice. During the winter months several of our patrol units were outfitted with studded snow tires, which I thought worked great. Studded snow tires are permitted in certain areas of the state between November 1st and April 30th of each year. These dates can also be extended due to extended inclement weather. Those who are interested in running studded snow tires should check with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Anyone who is planning to travel can check road conditions by either calling 1-800-427-7623 or visiting the Cal-Trans' website www.dot.ca.gov. Even if there is no inclement weather, motorists can be notified of traffic delays and road construction. Have a happy new year from all of us at the Red Bluff Police Department.

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