Tips For Safe Mountain Driving In The Spring

Finally, Spring! What a great time to drive up to Cameron Pass, or trek down to the sand dunes. For those of us who live year round at the higher elevations, it is with a smile that we head down to the front range to visit friends and take in some shopping. No matter if you’re planning to drive up or down, be aware the Spring conditions can be just as dangerous as Winter driving. Snow melt inevitably leads to mud and rock slides. Both can and do occur at any time throughout the year, but the added “lube” of melting snow makes Spring the time of year when they are most likely to happen. Slush, or melting snow on paved roads acts as a lubricant, leading to some surprise slipping and skidding if your not prepared for it. Traction is reduced in a way different from driving on snow and ice. Also, how many times have you gotten stuck in the mud going off road this time of year? I wont tell you how many times this has happened to me. Be careful that your Spring adventure does not end up with your car in the auto shop!

Mountain RoadA snow storm can still manifest at anytime during the Spring. If you are caught in one, here are some guidelines from driver’s ed information for driving in snow or icy conditions:

Obtain maximum visibility by turning on low-beam headlights and windshield wipers.

Drive slowly and stay farther behind the vehicle ahead. Slow to a crawl on ice. Slow down as you approach curves and intersections.

Avoid fast turns.

Avoid quick stops.

Shift to low gear before going down a steep hill, but do not downshift at too fast a speed.

If you drive in snowy areas, carry chains in case you find yourself in conditions where you can’t drive without them. Learn how to put the chains on BEFORE you need to use them.

If you begin to skid, let up on the accelerator and turn the front wheels in the direction of the skid.

A few additional tips for Spring driving:

1. When driving down a mountain road, don’t allow your acceleration to get out of control. Use low gears, or downshift to control your rate of acceleration. Riding the brakes is not a good idea, use your gears to maintain control of your speed.

2. When going uphill, or on steep upgrades, again downshift to a lower gear so you won’t tax your engine . Watch for overheating. If the temperature gauge starts going up, turn off the AC if you have it on. You can turn on your heater to vent hot air from the engine. If you need to pull over, keep your car idling until it cools down.

Dirt RoadA few common road courtesies also need to be observed. Share the road. Mountain byways can be very narrow, and a shoulder is not guaranteed. Stay to your side of the road, giving other vehicles the room they need. Pass other drivers with extreme caution. Sudden acceleration is notorious for churning up rocks and pebbles, sending a barricade of mineral fuselage into the windshield of a car you may be passing. Not a nice thing to do. If your car and another vehicle need to move out of each other’s way, remember that the car going uphill gets dibs. Pull over as much as you can and give that car the road.

The rate of legal speed varies from highway, to mountain. Be aware of these regulations. The blanket law for Colorado is “reasonable and prudent”.” Don’t go faster than is safe for conditions. Speed limit’s will be affected by adverse weather and traffic conditions.

20 mph: Winding, narrow mountain highways and blind curves.

25 mph: Central business districts.

30 mph: Residential areas.

40 mph:Open mountain highways.

55 mph, up to 65 mph where posted: Rural highways, including two lanes and four-lane divided.

65 mph, up to 75 mph where posted: Rural Interstates.

Several mountain roads will remain closed through May. And any road in the high country is subject to closure anytime, if adverse conditions arise. Be ready for an alternate route.

From October to May, some roads and passes are closed. Here are the major road closures throughout the winter:

US 34 through Rocky Mountain National Park

SH 5 up to the top of Mount Evans

SH 82 over Independence Pass

Gunnison CR 12 over Kebler Pass

Chaffee CR 306 over Cottonwood Pass

Have a great Spring drive, but keep in mind potential hazards and mountain conditions. You want to stay safe, and not drive in a way that adversely affects car health or your own safety.