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Driving Safely for Winter Road Conditions Typical in Northern California

Winter weather outside of Northern California can include snow and ice, but California has its own unique weather concerns that you should be prepared for when you hit the open road. As with any dangerous weather conditions, it’s best to avoid driving all together if you can.

If you’re out when the weather shifts or if your plans require you to drive in conditions like rain, wind, flooding, or mudslides, make sure to proceed slowly and cautiously. Knowing the weather variances and being aware of the seasonal changes make it easier for California drivers to recognize the conditions that can make driving less safe.

Staying Safe on the Road: Is it Worth Driving?

When you know bad weather like flooding, high winds, heavy rain, or mudslides are coming, re-evaluate your travel plans. Better to be safe than sorry. If you can stay out of harm’s way by skipping your trip altogether, you’re much less likely to find yourself dealing with car accidents or the resulting injuries.

Having roadside assistance through your car dealer or another organization, like AAA, can also help you if you become stuck in mud or experience other problems due to inclement weather. The peace of mind provided by roadside assistance could make you feel much safer if an incident happens while you’re driving.


Although weather warnings can alert you to an oncoming flood, sometimes the water builds up so quickly you may not have time to evacuate before the conditions got serious. This is particularly dangerous if you’ve taken your vehicle into a wash, dry lake bed, depression, or other low elevation, where a flash flood can occur.

If your vehicle is in more than 6 inches of water, it could stall, lose contact with the road and flip over. If it’s possible to back up and try another route on higher ground, do so; otherwise, get out of the vehicle and seek higher ground.

Keep in mind, flooding isn’t always related to heavy rains or storms. It can also happen because of a burst water main, a blocked drain, overflowing river banks, or big changes in tides if you’re near a coastal area.

Some of the most important tips to keep in mind when driving your car through floods include:

  • Avoid standing water whenever possible
  • Drive at a steady and slow pace to avoid creating a wave
  • Once you get out of the flooded area, test your brakes for possible damage
  • Avoid fast-moving water at all if in your car
  • Never drive though flood water that is moving very quickly or is greater than a few inches deep. Your car could easily be swept away or stuck otherwise.

In 2018, 66 people died in flood conditions. Of those, 50 of them happened in vehicles according to Weather.com. Always proceed with caution and consider transportation alternatives if they are available. Evacuating as soon as possible when dangerous conditions are expected could help save your life.


The biggest danger during mudslides and landslides is not the mud or land itself, but the debris flow that could block the roadway. Signs of debris flow in the area are fallen rocks, collapsed pavement, and muddy roads. This debris could get caught under your tires and possibly flip or throw your car off course. Mud and slick roads can quickly become dangerous as your vehicle loses the traction needed to move forward.

According to Consumer Reports, if you’re driving through a mudslide as its actively happening, shovel a path, use traction mats, and keep your wheels straight if you’re attempting to evacuate.

High Wind

It’s easy to underestimate the power of wind, but wind can be especially dangerous in wide open spaces, tunnels, mountainous areas, or overpasses. When driving in heavy wind, be aware of bigger and taller vehicles, such as semi-trucks and vans, that could be more easily moved by the wind. Maintain a strong and steady grip on the wheel of the car if you notice strong winds are moving your car on the roadway.

Driving in high winds poses additional dangers if:

  • You attempt to stop your vehicle on a bridge or overpass where it could be picked up and tipped over the edge.
  • You’re near any downed power lines, which could cause additional injuries like burns.
  • You’re in an area where a lot of debris has been picked up by the wind.

Heavy Rain

During heavy rains, using floodlights and windshield wipers can help reduce your chance of a serious accident on the roads. When driving in these conditions, you can further reduce your chance of an accident by:

  • Slowing down
  • Taking extra care when rain first starts to fall since the water can interact with oils on the road
  • Increasing your following time and space so that you and other drivers have more time to adjust
  • Watching for standing water because it can cause hydroplaning

If you do start to lose control of your car because of hydroplaning, release the pressure off the gas slowly. Keep your focus on the road ahead and try to keep the steering wheel aimed at where you want the front part of your vehicle to go.

Keeping your car properly maintained is essential for giving yourself the best chance. It’s best to replace your tires or windshield wipers as recommended to improve your chance of avoiding an accident related to poor traction or poor visibility.

One of the easiest things you can do to help yourself and other drivers is to signal your actions by consistently using your hazard lights, turn signals and headlights whenever it’s raining. If you can avoid using your high beams, your headlights will still make you visible to other cars without blinding other drivers. Far too many people neglect to use their turn signals and headlights, but both of these can be critical for staying safe.

Is an Accident in Bad Weather Someone Else’s Fault?

Even if you exercise caution and do everything you can to avoid a dangerous situation, accidents can and do still happen. You can’t account for the actions of everyone else on the road.

If you end up hurt in an auto accident in Northern California this winter due to bad weather, make sure you consider whether or not the other person’s negligent actions contributed to the car wreck, too. This information could become the basis of your personal injury lawsuit.

If you get into an accident, don’t forget to review your options with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Northern California. Dunnion Law is here to help you understand your options.