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Winter Travel Tips

Oregon's Weather Can Change Quickly

Online:

For up-to-date travel conditions, visit TripCheck, ODOT's mobile-friendly travel information website. The site features:

  • Maps updated in real time that display road conditions, color-coded traffic speeds on most roads across the state, trouble spots, weather, construction, maintenance and traffic incidents. High impact incidents are prominently displayed as "alerts." 
  • More than 400 camera images from key locations throughout Oregon, as well as southern Washington and northern California.
  • Create and bookmark custom camera pages with up to 10 different cameras for quick checks of specific routes.
  • Links to bus, airport, train, bicycle and trucking information; commercial roadside services such as hotels, motels and restaurants; and detailed information on scenic byways, safety rest areas and Sno-Parks.
  • Detailed information on the use of traction tires and chains in Oregon.
  • Waze user reports and traffic jams; these are overlaid on the TripCheck map, providing real-time traffic and road conditions from Wazers in the area.
  • "Travel Time," shows current travel times from key highway connections throughout the Portland metro area.
  • Updated highway closure information associated with winter weather conditions on I-84 and I-5.

TripCheck information is also available via Twitter. Visit www.TripCheck.com and click on the Twitter page to learn more. Use TripCheck TV to create a custom display of road condition information and camera images.

By phone:

Travelers in Oregon can dial 511 to access the same immediate road and weather information available on TripCheck. (Note: 511 does not have access to Waze data.)

  • Select updated reports about driving conditions by highway, mountain pass or major city from easy-to-use menus. The 511 system responds to both voice and touch-tone commands.
  • Calls to 511 are local calls when dialed from a pay phone or wire line phone. Mobile phone users are responsible for airtime and roaming charges according to their wireless service contracts, but ODOT does not impose any additional charges.
  • Most wireless companies in Oregon provide 511 service. If you cannot use 511, call toll-free 800 977-ODOT (6368) for road and weather information. Outside Oregon, dial 503-588-2941.
  • Oregon can forward users to Washington state's 511 system for road conditions in that state.​​​

Report a road hazard:

To report road hazards (trees down, electric wires across the road, road blocked by mud or rocks, etc.) call the nearest ODOT dispatch center.

  • Portland metro area, Hood River area: (503) 283-5859
  • Mid-Willamette Valley, north coast: (503) 362-0457
  • Southern Willamette Valley, south coast: (541) 858-3103
  • Central and eastern Oregon: (541) 383-0121
Wazers: We encourage you to submit road hazards, incidents and other related conditions that you experience in order to help others stay safe and mobile.

Remember, in Oregon, it is illegal to drive while holding or using an electronic device (e.g. cell phone, tablet, GPS, laptop). Pre-set GPS routes before driving or pull off the road and park in a safe area before using your electronic devices.

It's a lot easier to put chains on for the first time when you don't have to struggle to read the instructions alongside a snowy road. Practice installing your chains at home when the weather is fair. Then when road conditions require chains, you'll already know how to use them.

Video: How to put chains on​

Oregon chain law​

Map of chain-up areas

Tips on chaining up and driving with chains:

  • Check your vehicle operator’s manual for the right type and size of chains to use. Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
  • Ensure chains are the proper size. Don’t deflate tires to install chains.
  • Don’t wait until you lose control of your vehicle before chaining up.
  • Pull over to a safe and level area to mount or remove chains.
  • Pull over in a safe place and retighten your tire chains after you have driven a short distance.
  • Pull over and stop immediately if any part of your chain fails or comes loose.
  • Don’t drive faster than 30 miles per hour when using chains. Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Avoid spinning or locking your wheels.
  • Remember: you can slide even with chains, so drive carefully and slowly.

Studded Tire Facts

  • You can use studded tires in Oregon from Nov. 1 to March 31. Driving with studded tires before Nov. 1 or after March 31 is a Class C violation and carries a presumptive fine of nearly $200.
  • Research shows that studded tires are more effective than all-weather tires on icy roads, but are less effective in most other conditions because they may reduce traction between the road and the tire.
  • Damage from studded tires cost Oregonians approximately $8.5 million a year because roadways required repaving earlier than they normally would be.
  • When it rains, water collects in the pavement ruts caused by studded tires and creates dangerous driving conditions. In cold weather, that water can freeze and cause extra-slippery roads.

Alternatives to studded tires

Chains and chain-like devices

  • Chains are more effective than studded tires and are becoming easier to use.
  • Link chains may not be recommended for use on some types of vehicles; check your owner's manual.

Other traction tires

  • Traction tires other than studded tires provide increased traction in winter conditions.
  • They work about as well as studded tires on ice, but work better than studded tires or regular tires in most other winter conditions.
  • These other traction tires cause no more damage to road surfaces than regular tires.

Snow Zones

When you see a "Snow Zone​" sign as you drive Oregon's highways, pay special attention! These signs provide valuable information during winter months. Snow Zone signs let you know about the current requirements for using chains and traction tires. In very bad winter conditions all vehicles may be required to use chains regardless of the type of vehicle or type of tire being used. A conditional road closure may occur on any of Oregon's highways.

Know Before You Go

Visit www.TripCheck.com, Oregon's travel information website, for up-to-the-minute road conditions and more information on Oregon's chain law and chain requirements. You can also get the latest in road conditions by calling 511. ​

Alternative Travel Options during Winter

We have bus service in all the major metro areas and some of the smaller communites. Regional bus services offer connections throughout the state. 

If you want to avoid driving on ice and snow, or slogging through the rain, try taking public transit:

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The state highway is not a good place to deposit snow from your driveway. In fact, it’s against the law to deposit any object onto Oregon highways and highway right of way, including snow.

Placing driveway snow on the road or shoulder creates a hazard for other highway users and for our snowplow operators. Chunks of snow and ice form an uneven road surface that can surprise drivers and cause crashes.

When snowplows create berms of snow at the end of driveways, we ask property owners to help by shoveling that snow to the sides of their driveways, rather than back onto the road or shoulder.

If you shovel snow onto the roadway, you will be asked to clear it away. Or we may remove the snow and bill you for the cost of doing so. In addition, you may be cited under Oregon law; violations are punishable as a misdemeanor.​

The Sno-Park program, established in 1977, helps pay for snow removal in these designated winter recreation parking locations. A list of Sno-Parks are available at TripCheck under the Travel Center​ tab. There are three types of Sno-Park permits:
  • An annual permit is $25.
  • A three-day permit (valid for three consecutive days) is $9.
  • A one-day permit is $4.
Parking in an Oregon Sno-Park without a permit may result in a $30 fine.

Sno-Park permits are sold at all Driver and Motor Vehicle Services offices and by permit agents at many sporting goods stores, winter resorts and other outlets. Businesses authorized by DMV to sell the permits may charge an additional service fee for each permit they sell. For a list of Sno-Park permit vendors, visit the DMV website​.

Annual permits are also available by sending a written request with your return address, phone number and a check or money order to:

    DMV Vehicle Mail No. 1
    1905 Lana Avenue N.E.
    Salem, Oregon 97314.
Sno-Park permits issued in California and Idaho are honored in Oregon, and Oregon permits are honored in those states.​

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Rain can create dangerous driving conditions including reduced visibility, reduced traction between tires and the road, and less predictable car handling. When it’s raining, be cautious and give yourself more time to get where you are going. Also remember to:
  • Slow down, especially through high water. Driving through several inches of water at high speed can cause you to lose control of the car.
  • Watch for hydroplaning conditions. If you hydroplane, ease off the gas, gently apply the brakes and steer straight ahead.
  • Keep your distance. If it hasn’t rained in a while, road surfaces will be slick.
  • Turn on your headlights to improve visibility.
  • Disengage your cruise control.

Maintain your Vehicle

  • Before heading out in wet weather, check your wipers for signs of damage. Replace wiper blades regularly.
  • Make sure your defroster is functioning properly, especially if you haven’t used it in a while.
  • Check your brakes. After driving through a puddle, check that brakes are working properly by tapping them gently a few times.
  • Make sure tires are in good condition and are at the recommended inflation level. Tires should have a recommended 2/32 of an inch tread depth at any two adjacent grooves. Driving on over-inflated or under-inflated tires reduces traction and control on wet pavement.
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Driving in the snow requires a certain set of driving skills that some Oregon residents rarely get to use. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Check road conditions on your route before you go at TripCheck​ or by dialing 511. Plan your trip accordingly.
  • Allow extra time to get where you’re going. Travel is going to be slow.
  • Allow extra stopping distance. There is less traction on slick, snowy roads.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding or sliding. If the wheels lock up, ease off the brakes.
  • Carry chains and know how to use them.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in top operating conditions, with clean headlights, good brakes, working windshield wipers and good tires.
  • Slow down when approaching off-ramps, bridges and shady spots where the snow often lingers longer.
  • Turn on your headlights to increase your visibility.
  • Be prepared for delays. Make sure you have water, blankets, a full tank of gas…and plenty of patience!
  • If you feel tired or if road conditions get rough, don’t be afraid to stop for the night.

Driving at night is more difficult because visibility is reduced. However, low visibility conditions often occur during the day, caused by heavy snowfall, downpours, thick fog and blowing dust or smoke.

Tips for driving in low visibility:

  • Slow down. Every year, "driving too fast for conditions" shows up in the top five most common reasons for crashes.
  • Use your low beams. High beams will disperse in thick fog or snow, making visibility worse for you and other drivers.
  • Turn on your rear fog lamps, if your vehicle is equipped. They greatly aid visibility for drivers approaching from the rear.
  • If you suddenly encounter a severe loss of visibility, pull off the pavement as far as possible. Stop, turn off your lights, set the emergency brake and take your foot off the brake to be sure the taillights are not illuminated. Turn on your emergency flashers.
  • If you can't pull off the roadway, slow down, turn on your low beam headlights and sound the horn occasionally. Use the white fog line or roadside reflectors if necessary to help guide you.
  • Never stop in the travel lanes.
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Use Headlights in Winter

Turn on your low-beam headlights during the daytime in the winter months to make your vehicle more visible to other drivers, people on bikes and pedestrians. When natural light is low — at dawn or dusk or when it’s raining, cloudy or snowing — you can improve your vehicle’s visibility significantly. Remember to keep your car headlights clean. Get in the habit of wiping off your lights at the gas station. That way you're ready for low-visibility conditions.

Tests conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers determined that with headlights off, drivers can see oncoming cars when they are an average of 2,074 feet away. With headlights on, that distance more than doubles to an average of 4,720 feet.

Tips for Driving in Pacific Northwest Fog

When you are driving in fog, slow down to adjust to the reduced visibility. In the most severe situations, a Dense Fog Advisory​ will be issued if visibility is reduced to less than one-quarter mile. Follow these safety tips when driving in Fog:

  • Slow down and disengage your cruise control.
  • Use your low beams; high beams will reflect back thick fog, making visibility worse for you and other drivers.
  • Keep the view clear. Avoid fogged windows by regularly using the defroster and windshield wipers. The air conditioning setting will help keep moisture from building up inside.
  • Increase following distance to ensure enough time to stop safely.
  • Use the right edge of the road, white fog line or roadside reflectors as a guide. Do not change lanes or pass other vehicles unless necessary.
  • If you pull off the road, pull over as far as possible, turn off your headlights and turn on your hazard lights.
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Bridges and overpasses are the most dangerous parts of the road in the winter. They are the first to freeze and the last to thaw because they’re built of concrete, which doesn’t retain as much heat as other materials. Be safe while driving on icy roads by remembering the following:

  • Turn off your cruise control, be alert and drive cautiously.
  • Roads that are wet or have fresh snow, packed snow, or ice have varying degrees of traction. Adjust your speed to match road conditions accordingly.
  • Increase your distance from vehicles in front of you. Allow about three times as much space as usual.
  • If your vehicle suddenly feels like it’s floating, gradually slow down. Tap on your brakes gently; don’t slam on them.
  • Changes in elevation can drastically affect road and weather conditions. Watch for icy spots, especially in shaded corners.
  • Avoid driving through snowdrifts — they may cause your vehicle to spin out of control.
  • Blowing powder or dry snow can limit your visibility, especially when approaching or following trucks or snowplows. Keep your distance to avoid being blinded by blowing snow.
  • Look for signs of ice on windshield wipers, side view mirrors, road signs, trees or fences. If ice has formed on any of these things, it may be on the road as well.

Invisible Danger: Black Ice

Black ice, also called glare ice or clear ice, is a thin layer of ice on the roadway. Any ice is dangerous to drive on, but black ice is particularly hazardous because the road looks wet, not icy. Black ice isn’t really black; it’s so thin and transparent that the darker pavement shows through. It often has a matte appearance rather than the expected gloss.

Ordinary snow tires are designed for snow, not ice. The most helpful device for gaining traction on ice is tire chains. But even with chains, stopping distance is still several times greater than on dry pavement with ordinary tires.

Black ice is most common at night and very early in the morning, when temperatures are typically their lowest. It is usually thin enough that it melts soon after sunlight hits it, but it can last much longer on shaded areas of roadways. The ground cools more slowly than the air and warms back more slowly as well, so even if the air temperature is above freezing, the roadway may still be frozen. This discrepancy between temperatures can lull drivers into a false sense of security.

It's illegal to pass a snowplow on the right on state highways. On most Oregon highways, snowplows have “wing” plows that stick out more than eight feet from the right front edge of the truck. The snow being plowed or blown off the road can contain rocks and other debris that can damage vehicles.

Drivers who try to pass on the right when a snowplow is in operation run the risk of damaging their vehicles, hitting the snowplow or running off the road and into a snow bank or guardrail.

Drivers should give winter maintenance vehicles such as plows and sanders a wide berth. They do not travel at high speeds and other vehicles quickly overtake them. Plows and sanding trucks pull over periodically to let traffic pass. The best advice is to stay at least three car lengths behind and give yourself more time to get where you are going.

If you approach an intersection with signal lights either flashing or out, it’s important to follow basic rules to keep yourself and other drivers safe:

  • Treat the intersection as an all-way stop: Come to a full stop. Look both ways for other traffic and pedestrians. Once it's safe, drive cautiously through the intersection.
  • If there is other traffic, common courtesy requires that the driver who stops first goes first.
  • If in doubt, yield to the driver on your right.

Be alert at railroad crossings. Power outages also can also affect railroad crossings. Railroad crossing signals have built-in backup battery power and should continue to operate for a short time during power outages. During a long-term power outage or other problem, railroad-crossing arms will automatically move to the “down” position. Railroad companies have standard procedures for these situations. Never drive around railroad-crossing arms in the down position. A train may be coming.

Use your headlights for tunnels and bridges. It may be more difficult to see tunnel entrances and bridge approaches if there is a power outage. Use your headlights whenever there is reduced visibility and use caution.

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With a few precautions, bicycling in the winter offers the same benefits as fair-weather cycling, such as saving gas money, reducing highway damage (and therefore costs!), and using one less car parking space. Bicycling is also good for your health and great for the environment! Here are some tips to make your winter bicycle commuting safe and successful:

Wear the right clothes, including:

  • A good wind jacket over layers of clothing.
  • A pair of wind pants or long underwear.
  • Windproof mittens over insulating liners or gloves on milder days.
  • A neck gaiter and warm hat under your bicycle helmet.
  • A helmet cover with an ear band.

Use the righ equipment, such as:

  • ​A mountain bike with sturdy tires.
  • A set of fenders.
  • In icy conditions, studded bicycle tires.
  • A bright halogen light on the front of your bike and a red light on the back.
  • A reflective vest and reflective tape on your helmet and elsewhere.

This information is provided by Commute Options, located in Bend. Commute Options promotes active transportation including walking, bicycling, carpooling, vanpooling, telecommuting and transit. Learn more at commuteoptions.org​.

Winter weather conditions can make driving dangerous for anyone, but when you are driving a 70-foot long vehicle weighing as much as 105,500 pounds, slick roads and low visibility can be especially challenging. An average of 100 truck-involved crashes resulting in an injury or fatality occur in snowy or icy conditions in Oregon each year. The ODOT Motor Carrier Transportation Division​ offers advice and resources, including a short video, to help drivers prepare for winter driving in Oregon.

Chains and Snow Zones

  • Chains are required in Oregon whenever winter conditions exist and SNOW ZONE signs are posted advising drivers to carry or use them. Oregon’s weather can change quickly and without warning. It’s a good idea to carry chains during the fall and winter months.
  • Chain information including snow zone notices, chain requirements and diagrams are posted on Oregon’s travel information website, TripCheck​.
  • Snow zone notices and road condition information are also available by phone. From within Oregon, call 511 or 1-800-977-ODOT (6368). From outside Oregon, dial 503-588-2941.
  • Drivers who disobey signs requiring chains are subject to citations and fines.

Safety Tips

  • Be prepared. Have an emergency kit, shovel, flares, extra food and water, etc.
  • Inspect your vehicle before you get on the road. Make sure your wipers, lights, battery, tires and brakes are working properly.
  • Allow more time to reach your destination. In severe weather, closures and crashes can cause long delays.
  • Pick up a chain information card at ports of entry or ODOT Motor Carrier offices.
  • Oregon’s travel information website, TripCheck has chain information, snow zone notices, road closures, emergency alerts, cameras showing mountain passes and highways around the state and you can sign up to receive automated traffic alerts via Twitter.

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