Snow in The Golden State? Top 5 Driving Tips

California highways

California is known for a lot of things, from its scenic vistas to the Hollywood lifestyle. What it isn’t usually linked with, though, is snow.

Unless you live near the mountain ranges, you can count on a consistently temperate climate. Even steady rain is rare, so when it snows, drivers in the Golden State are understandably confused and concerned.

The problem is that drivers dealing with uncertainty and inclement weather are dangerous behind the wheel. Add this to the already hazardous California highways, and it’s a recipe for tragedy.

If you’re one of the millions of drivers who aren’t quite sure how to handle snowy road conditions, keep these five safety tips in mind.

1. Change Gears Smoothly

On most wet roads, as long as you’re keeping your tires rotating consistently, the friction keeps them stuck in their groove. Jerky movements and uneven pavement are what cause them to lose that grip.

As much as possible, make slow, steady changes when you’re switching from the accelerator to the brakes. Don’t jerk the steering wheel, even if you feel yourself slipping.

Keep your moves gentle and drive slow.

2. Try to See Ahead

California highways are notorious for last-second turn-offs and winding roads. That’s what makes them treacherous on an average day. In fact, the state makes up over 11% of the entire nation’s car accidents!

When it’s snowing, it’s hard to see where you’re going. Try to look as far ahead as possible so you can slow down long before the turn approaches.

If you know the area, look for familiar signs that tell you where you’re at and give yourself milestones to watch for in case the visibility gets worse.

Keep an eye on the cars around you, and double the distance between you and them. If any of you hit a puddle or an icy patch, that extra space could be life-saving.

3. Watch Your Dashboard

If your car is a 2012 or newer model, you have a system called an electronic stability control (ESC). Its function is to monitor the traction in your wheels and warn you if they begin to lose their grip.

The signal shows up on your dashboard as a car with curvy lines behind it. This means that your vehicle is either out of control, or it’s giving you a heads up that driving conditions are slippery, and you need to be careful.

Either way, remember tip number one: don’t jerk the wheel or slam on the brakes. Ease up on the accelerator until the tires get their traction back. Don’t accelerate more than the bare minimum when you make turns.

Occasionally, the ESC light comes on if the system is malfunctioning. Since it can be an invaluable asset, it’s important that you get it fixed as soon as possible.

4. Ride Out the Slides Carefully

When roads are wet, skids happen. Riding out a skid is one of the most essential skills you can have in any climate, especially when you’re driving on a mountain.

As soon as you start to feel your car skid, look in the direction you want to go. Your brain will perform the actions that make it happen.

Don’t worry about which way the car is moving. Keep your focus on where you intend to end up, and you’re more likely to get there.

Front-wheel drivers should slowly let go of the accelerator to pull out of a skid.

Rear-wheel vehicles can spin out easier. Figure out which direction the rear is sliding in, then turn the wheel the same way. Remove your foot from the gas slowly and stay off the brakes. When you feel the traction again, start driving the way you wanted to go.

5. Engage the ABS System

Around the same time the ESC system became mandatory in cars, another safety feature was required. The anti-lock brake system (ABS) comes standard in all newer cars.

The ABS system uses an onboard computer to kick in and give your brakes precision control when weather conditions are bad. So, if you find yourself out of control and sliding into something, slam on your brakes as hard as you can and keep them there.

The computer will recognize the threat and change the braking force to stop the car while you continue steering. It’s okay if you feel a shudder when the ABS kicks in. That just tells you they’re doing their job.


The occasional snowy weather can be beautiful and peaceful if you don’t have to drive in it. But if you’re not used to the weather conditions, and you’re behind the wheel, it turns into a perilous situation.

With these five tips, you can navigate your way safely through all but the worst snowstorms. Of course, the best advice is to stay home and stay warm!