Winter driving tips from Caltrans this holiday and a snow chain demonstration

Many of us travel to see family during the holidays so before you head out here are some tips from Caltrans.

Posted: Dec 20, 2017 7:20 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2017 7:27 AM

Wednesday morning Chico residents experienced rain and slick roads here and you can expect to see snow in the mountain areas.

Many of us travel to see family during the holidays so before you head out here are some tips from Caltrans:

- Before heading to snow country, make sure your brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater and exhaust system are in top condition.

- Check your antifreeze and be ready for colder temperatures. You may want to add special solvent to your windshield washer reservoir to prevent icing.

- Check your tires. Make sure they are properly inflated and the tread is in good condition.

- Always carry tire chains/traction devices. Make sure they are the proper size for your tires and are in working order. You might also want to take along a flashlight and chain repair links. Chains must be installed on the drive wheels. Make sure you know if your vehicle is front or rear wheel drive.

- Other suggested items to carry in your car are an ice scraper or commercial deicer, a broom for brushing snow off your car, a shovel to free your car if it's "snowed in," sand or burlap for traction if your wheels should become mired in snow and a towel to clean your hands.

- It is also a good idea to take along water, food, warm blankets and extra clothing. A lengthy delay will make you glad you have these supplies.

Chain Requirement Levels

During the winter months, motorists may encounter traction chain controls in the mountain areas within California. When chain controls are established, signs will be posted along the road indicating the type of requirement. There are Three Levels of Chain Requirements in California:

Requirement 1 (R-1): Chains are required on all vehicles except passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks under 6,000 pounds gross weight and equipped with snow tires1 on at least two drive wheels. Chains must be carried by vehicles using snow tires. All vehicles towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle. Trailers with brakes must have chains on at least one axle.
Requirement 2 (R2): Chains or traction devices2 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.)
Requirement 3 (R3): Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions.


You must stop and put on chains when highway signs indicate chains are required and can be cited by the California Highway Patrol and fined if you do not. Chain Control Checkpoints, staffed by Caltrans and CHP, are used on highways and freeways that historically have major problems with compliance by drivers.

You will be required to stop at staffed checkpoints. You will be directed to turn around if you do not have adequate tires or chains. The majority of times when chains are required, you will not be required to pass through a checkpoint. Drivers must follow "Chains Required" signs whether required to go through a checkpoint or not.

When you must put on chains, wait until you can pull completely off the roadway to the right. Do not stop in a traffic lane where you will endanger yourself and block traffic.

Chain Installers: If you use the services of a chain installer, be sure to get a receipt and jot the installer's badge number on it. Remember, chain installers are independent business people, not Caltrans employees. Having the badge number may help with any misunderstandings later. Chain installers are NOT allowed to sell or rent chains.

When removing chains, drive beyond the signs reading "End Chain Control" to a pull-off area where you can safely remove them.


Buckle your seatbelt. Each passenger is required to wear a seatbelt and small children must be in approved car seats.

Allow enough time. Trips to the mountains can take longer during winter than other times of 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 snowbrush or scraper. Use the car defroster and a clean cloth to keep the windows free of fog.

Slow down. A highway speed of 55 or 65 miles an hour may be safe in dry weather, but an invitation for trouble on snow or ice. Snow and ice make stopping distances much longer, so 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 and for snow removal equipment. Even though snow removal vehicles 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 carbon monoxide problems.


Weather and road conditions change rapidly and may cause a change in chain control points or a closure of the highway. The highway may be open when you leave home, but may close or have chain controls imposed as you are traveling to your destination.

Spinouts and accidents happen frequently during storms, which may block the roadway for several hours. Heavily traveled routes are particularly vulnerable to such closures.

Low visibility caused by high winds and blowing snow is another cause for closing a highway.

Caltrans is trying to reduce the number and length of times I-5 is closed due to spinouts and accidents. During major storms when traffic flow is heavy, Caltrans will implement one or all of the following check point controls:

1. Truck Screening: This is typically done for northbound I-5 approximately 10 miles north of Redding (Fawndale Interchange). All semi-trucks will be checked to make sure they have a full set of tire chains before being allowed to travel north into areas where chains will be required.

2. Metering: Metering will be implemented when necessary to control the number of vehicles that feed into the snow area. This congestion control procedure gives Caltrans a better chance of keeping the freeway open.

3. Chains Required on Black Pavement: At times you will be required to use chains before encountering snow on the pavement. This is necessary due to the limited number of fully equipped checkpoints, changing snow levels, and the need to prevent problems before they happen.

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