Q I learned to drive in snow when I still had a learner's permit. One day as we were leaving Tahoe, a Cadillac ripped past me going way too fast for conditions. We found him around the corner in a snowbank, his front end in up to his windshield. Nobody was hurt, but it was hard to not laugh at him.

Years later I was going down from the summit back toward the Bay Area. I was going about 20 to 25 mph in a snowstorm. The guy at the checkpoint was in a hurry because they were talking about shutting down Interstate 80. I had a four-wheel-drive go past me probably twice my speed. A short time later a CHP unit went past at a much safer speed.

Around the next bend I found them both -- the four-wheel-drive in a snowbank up to his windshield. I smiled and waved to the officer as I chugged past at 20 to 25 mph. I got a smile and a wave back.

J.C.R.

Vallejo

A Too many folks think a 4-wheel-drive vehicle makes them immune from the risks of driving in snow or rain. They don't. Here are my annual tips for driving in the snow:

  • Go slow. Go slow. Go slow. Caltrans says one out of four drivers on I-80 has never driven in the snow.

  • Allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.


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  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.

  • Turn on lights, and keep them and your windshield clean.

  • Use low gears to maintain traction, especially on hills. Don't use cruise control on icy roads.

  • Don't pass snowplows or sand trucks. Those drivers have limited visibility, and you're likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.

  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently. If you have anti-lock brakes, do not pump them. Apply steady pressure and you will feel the brakes pulse.

  • If you get stuck, do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way. Use a light touch on the gas to ease your car out. Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.

  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels to get traction. Try rocking the vehicle, but check your owner's manual first. Rocking can damage the transmission on some vehicles. Shift from forward to reverse and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

  • Don't assume four-wheel- and front-wheel-drive vehicles can handle snowy conditions better. Stan-the-Caltrans-Snow-Man once said drivers go too fast, especially those in SUVs: "I'd love to work with agencies that create ads for four-wheel-drive vehicles crashing through snowbanks and driving up slopes. That's fiction. There's no way that (SUVs) perform like that in snow conditions. We've been trying to get that message out for years, but it falls on deaf ears."

    Q Where can I get the best updated reports on snow conditions in the mountains?

    Mike Johnson

    Santa Clara

    A Go to either www.getacross80.com or http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov, which color-codes traffic conditions and allows you to enter a highway number and see its latest conditions.

    I also like http://video.dot.ca.gov, where you can see live video of conditions on various locations on I-80. You can also call 800-427-7623 for road reports across the state.

    Q When chains are required, can you remind drivers that the speed limit is 30 mph?

    Mary Friend

    Richmond

    A Indeed, it is 30 mph.

    Q Are chains necessary on all tires?

    T. Alford

    Sacramento

    A The state requires chains on one axle, and you can decide which by checking the driver's manual. Many who own all-wheel drive recommend chains on the front only. Go to www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo/wo.htm for more information.

    And more tips:

  • Keep a full gas tank.

  • Carry an emergency kit with a flashlight, first-aid kit, flares or emergency triangles, window washer fluid, tools, blanket or sleeping bag, gloves, paper towels, drinking water and extra food. Also include a small shovel.

  • Carry an extra car key. Many motorists lock themselves out of their vehicles when installing chains or attending to weather-related problems.

    Follow Gary Richards at Twitter.com/mrroadshow, look for him at Facebook.com/mr.roadshow or contact him at mrroadshow@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5335. The fax number is 408-288-8060/