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Caltrans, California Highway Patrol (CHP), U.S. Forest Service, San Bernardino County Sheriff, San Bernardino County Fire and the San Bernardino Mountain Chambers and Resorts have compiled winter driving tips for motorists who plan to travel to the mountains during the winter season. MAKE SURE TO USE TURNOUTS IF MORE THAN 5 CARS ARE BEHIND YOU!

A snowy street in Big Bear

WINTER DRIVING TIPS

(save downloadable version here)

Prepping For Winter Driving

  • ALWAYS Carry Chains When Inclement Weather Is Forecasted!
  • When driving during or shortly after a storm, expect delays. Plan on leaving extra early to manage heavy/slow traffic.
  • Be courteous to other drivers and be aware of road conditions before you make your trip.
  • Make sure your tires have good tread and are properly inflated.
  • Carry emergency supplies including: food, water, warm clothing, blankets, medication and a cell phone.
  • Caltrans maintenance crews work continuously day and night to keep the roadways clear for travelers. Please be patient and courteous while Caltrans crews work to keep the roads clear. You can follow road conditions updates on Caltrans Quickmaps.

When You Need Chains

  • If you are required to put chains on, look for a turnout or find a safe area to pull over to the right side of the road out of the flow of traffic.
  • DO NOT STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROADWAY TO PUT CHAINS ON.
  • It's crucial to install the chains on the drive tires. Refer to your vehicle’s manual or contact your dealer if you are unsure if your vehicle is two wheel or rear wheel drive.
  • When you go home, take your trash with you (including diapers) – DON’T TRASH CALIFORNIA!

When Driving In Icy/Snowy Conditions

  • Make sure you can see out all windows of your vehicle before you drive.
  • Use your low beams when driving in fog, ice or snowstorms.
  • Keep 3 car lengths away from the vehicle in front of you. The distance needed to stop on ice is twice as long as you would normally need to brake.
  • NEVER brake suddenly or harshly while driving on ice – tap brakes lightly, on and off until you slow.
  • Black ice remains on roadways that is not subject to direct sunlight. Be careful when driving into shady areas and cautiously slow your vehicle on approach.
  • Reduce your speed before you approach a turn. Avoid sudden acceleration or deceleration. Travel gently, meaning move slowly, turn slowly, and brake slowly. Sudden changes can cause a skid.
  • If you go into a skid, special maneuvering is required. In a Front Wheel Drive, when your car begins to slide, slowly remove your foot from the accelerator, until you feel your wheels regain traction – do not brake! As your tires grab the road, slowly turn the steering wheel in the direction you want your front wheels to go. In a Rear Wheel drive vehicle, when you start to spin, remove your foot from the gas pedal and slowly steer in the direction you want the car to go. If you are still skidding, counter-steer until your vehicle is pointing in the right direction. Never apply steady pressure to the brakes.
  • Be especially aware of your surroundings, including other drivers that may be losing control on the roadway.
  • The posted speed limit may be 45-mph, however, that does not mean 45-mph is a safe speed for the conditions.
  • When driving uphill, pick a path that will allow the most traction.

CHAIN CONTROL REQUIREMENT LEVELS:

W: No Restrictions - Watch for snow on pavement.
R-1: Chains are required on all commercial vehicles (trucks or buses). All other vehicles (cars, pick-ups, vans, etc.) must have either snow tread tires or chains on the drive axle.
R-2: Chains are required on all vehicles except four-wheel drives with snow tread tires. Four-wheel drive vehicles must carry chains in the vehicle.
R-3: Chains required - ALL VEHICLES - no exceptions.

For current road conditions, call Big Bear Lake Visitors Center at 800-424-4232, Cal-Trans Road Conditions at 1-800-427-7623 or check the CalTrans Quick Map.

Tire Chain FAQs

How do I find the right chains for my tires?

Check your vehicle owners manual and your tires for specifications on tire chains. It’s important to buy chains or other traction that are the correct size for your tires. Link-type chains that are too big will bang against the body your vehicle causing significant damage. Chains and other traction that are too small won’t fit around the tire at all.

Where Can I Buy Chains?

Chains are sold at most auto supply shops, hardware stores, and some convenience stores. Call ahead to check what types of traction devices they carry. Please note, most stores are final sale only and do not rent chains.

Can studded tires and snow tires replace the need to carry/install chains?

No. Though studded tires are legal in California from Nov. 1 until Apr. 30 each year, studded tires are not considered tire traction devices and may not be used in lieu of chains.

Snow tires have the designation “Mud & Snow” or an abbreviation such as “M-S,” “M+S,” or “M/S” marked on the tire sidewall. Same as studded tire, snow tires may not be used in lieu of chains.

My car rental company won’t let me put chains on. Am I excused from carrying/wearing chains?

Many car rental companies may not allow chains on their inventory for various reasons, however this does not excuse you from carrying them or installing them if Caltrans requires it. The best bet if you’re worried about snowy roads is to rent either an all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle for your journey.

I have a 4-Wheel/All-Wheel vehicle and I’m towing a trailer. Do I need chains?

You need to use chains if you’re towing a trailer. If the trailer has brakes, you must have at least one axle chained.