Winter Travel Tips and Information
Travel information and road conditions - Know before you go!
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For up-to-date travel conditions, visit www.TripCheck.com
, ODOT's mobile-friendly travel information website. The site features:
- Maps updated in real time that display road conditions, trouble spots, weather, construction, maintenance and traffic incidents. TripCheck also displays high impact incidents (alerts) on multiple pages to make them easier to spot.
- More than 400 camera images from key locations throughout Oregon, as well as southern Washington and northern California.
- Users can create and bookmark custom camera pages with up to 10 different cameras for quick checks of specific routes.
- A color-coded speed map of the Portland area provides average travel speeds on Portland highways.
- 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.
- TripCheck TV allows users to create a custom display of road conditions information and camera images.
TripCheck information is also available in text format via Twitter. Visit www.TripCheck.com and click on the Twitter page to learn more.
511. Travelers in Oregon can dial 511 to access the same immediate road and weather information available on TripCheck.
- elect 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 the Washington state 511 system for road conditions in that state.
Remember, in Oregon, drivers are allowed to use hands-free devices, but not texting devices or touch cell phones. ODOT encourages motorists to pull off the road and park in a safe area before using cell phones.
On cable TV:
Bend Broadband cable subscribers can check road and weather information instantly on television.
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
Chains and traction tires
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Practice chaining up
In Oregon, there are times when you may be required to use chains on snowy or icy roads. It’s important to learn how to mount your chains before bad weather strikes. (Watch a video to learn how to put on chains
Travelers who wait until the last minute to put on chains can block lanes, delay other drivers and make it difficult for crews to sand and plow the road. Do your part to keep traffic moving by putting your chains on early. Map of chain-up areas.
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.
Here are some 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.
- Carry a waterproof tarp or plastic sheet to help keep you dry.
- Keep children and pets safe in your car to avoid distraction and injury.
- Pull over in a safe place and retighten your tire chains after you have driven a short distance. Map of chain-up areas
- 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.
- Oregon chain law.
Traction tires: you have options
Oregon state law
allows motorists to use studded tires from Nov. 1 through March 31
. Because studded tires damage Oregon highways, ODOT encourages drivers to consider using chains or non-studded traction tires.
Studless traction tires that meet Rubber Manufacturers Association standards for use in severe snow conditions carry a special symbol on the tire sidewall: a three-peaked mountain and snowflake. Research shows these tires provide better traction than studded tires on bare pavement.
Studded tire facts
- You can use studded tires in Oregon from Nov. 1 through 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.
Know Before you Go: Visit www.TripCheck.com
, Oregon’s travel information web site, 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.
Frequently asked questions Answers to common questions about chains and traction tires
. Snow Zone signs tell you what's required
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. TripCheck
has pictures of the signs and a description of what each of them means.
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. This conditional road closure
may occur on any of Oregon's highways.
Regardless of whether the chains required signs are posted, it is every driver's responsibility to maintain control of their vehicle at all times.
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Winter can be the perfect season to try out a carpool or vanpool, ride the
bus, or take the train
Busses operate in all major metro areas and some of the smaller communites. Regional bus services offer connections throughout the state. The TripCheck Transit tab is a great place to start planning your trip.
If you want to avoid driving on ice and snow, or slogging through the rain, consider taking an
alternative form of transportation:
- Urban bus service (Portland metro, Salem metro, Eugene/Springfield,
Medford/Ashland, Coos Bay, Corvallis, Albany, Bend, Klamath Falls)
- Regional bus service (central Oregon, northeastern Oregon, coastal
connections and more)
- Amtrak Cascades train and Cascades POINT bus (Eugene to Portland to Seattle)
- POINT Intercity bus service (Portland to the north/central coast; Klamath Falls —
Medford — Brookings; Redmond and Bend to the Chemult Amtrak Station; Bend to eastern Oregon). See www.oregon-point.com.
- Several dozen vanpools operate up and down the Willamette and Rogue valleys - Find a carpool that works for you at www.drivelessconnect.com.
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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.
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From Nov. 1 — April 30 in Oregon, parking in a Sno- Park requires a valid permit displayed on your windshield. About 100 Sno-Parks are located throughout the state - in all mountain passes and at most ski, snowmobile and snow-play areas. A list of Sno-Parks is available at TripCheck.com under “Travel Center.”
The Sno-Park program, established in 1977, helps pay for snow removal in these designated winter recreation parking locations. There are three types of Sno-Park permits:
Parking in an Oregon Sno-Park without a permit may result in a $30 fine.
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, Ore., 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: 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. It could also splash water into the engine and stall it. Lower your speed so you are prepared for sudden stops caused by disabled cars, debris and other wet-weather hazards.
If it hasn’t rained in a while, expect road surfaces to be slick when it starts raining. Engine oil and grease build up on the road over time. When mixed with water from rain, the road can become slick. The first few hours of a fresh rain can be the most dangerous.
Turn on your headlights to improve visibility.
Disengage your cruise control.
Keep your distance. A car needs two to three times more stopping distance on wet roads.
Maintain your vehicle during wet weather
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 is dangerous on wet pavement.
Watch for hydroplaning conditions
Hydroplaning occurs when your front tires ride on a film of water. It can occur at speeds as low as 35 miles per hour, especially if tires are worn. If you hydroplane, ease off the gas, gently apply the brakes and steer straight ahead.
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Driving in the snow requires a certain set of driving skills that some Oregon residents get to use only rarely.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Allow extra time to get where you’re going. Travel is going to be slow.
Bike riders should be extra careful about motorized vehicles, which take longer to stop in the snow, while drivers must be extra watchful for people on bikes.
Check road conditions on your route before you go at TripCheck.com or by dialing 511. Plan your trip accordingly. If conditions are questionable, wait it out.
Turn off your cruise control.
Allow extra stopping distance. There is less traction on slick, snowy roads.
Turn on your headlights to increase your visibility.
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.
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.
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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.
- Slow down. Disengage your cruise control. Most accidents occur because drivers are going too fast for the weather conditions.
- 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.
- Avoid entering an area if you cannot see a safe distance ahead.
- 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.
"Too fast" is too risky
Every year, "driving too fast for conditions" shows up in the top five most common reasons for crashes. Slow down! You must make adjustments in your driving when road conditions have changed.
Be seen: 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 by turning on your low-beam headlights. Many newer vehicles come with daytime running lights so that anytime the vehicle is operating, the low-beam headlights are on to improve visibility.
Driving with your lights on during the day throughout the winter helps contrast your vehicle against buildings and other terrain features. Diminished visibility results when there is little contrast between the color of a vehicle and its background, such as a lightly colored car against snow or a green car against foliage. Small cars are harder to see at a distance compared to pickups and SUVs. Headlights also contribute to safety on highways with one lane of travel in each direction.
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.
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.
Tips for driving safely in our 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. Check TripCheck.com
for more information, and follow these safety tips:
- Slow down. Disengage your cruise control. Many crashes occur because the driver is going too fast for weather conditions.
- Use your low beams. High beams will reflect back thick fog, making visibility worse for you and other drivers.
- Oregon law says fog or auxiliary lights must be turned off when within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle and within 350 feet when following another vehicle.
- Keep your car headlights clean.
- Keep the view clear. Avoid fogged windows by regularly using the defroster and windshield wipers. Moisture can build up on the windshield both inside and out. The air conditioning setting will help keep moisture from building up inside.
- Minimize distractions.
- Increase following distance to ensure enough time to stop safely.
- Watch for emergency stops by other vehicles; watch for slow-moving and parked vehicles.
- 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. There is no land beneath the structure to provide protection from the weather. 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.
- 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. Don’t slam on your brakes.
- 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
After a storm has passed, you should remain cautious, especially on bridges and overpasses. Maintenance crews will be out to clear roads as soon as possible, but the snow and ice may not melt right away.
Invisible danger: Black ice. Beware!
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.
Ice on the road prevents tires from gripping, so steering is difficult and stopping is harder. That means four-wheel drive vehicles won’t help much. 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. Bridges and overpasses are danger spots: since they do not receive as much heat from the ground and lose more heat to the air, they can drop below freezing even when the rest of the roadway doesn’t.
Ice forms on the road when the road surface temperature drops below freezing. 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: they hear the temperature on the morning news and think all’s well, when the road is still frozen.
Keep a safe distance from plows and sanders
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In a contest between a snowplow and any other vehicle, the laws of physics virtually guarantee the snowplow will win.
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.
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.
Trying to pass a plow on the left also has its problems. The road behind the snowplow is in much better condition than the road ahead. If conditions are severe enough to require the attention of a snowplow, drivers should use extra care when trying to accelerate and pass other vehicles. Ruts in the snow can grab tires; icy conditions make it difficult to control any vehicle at higher speeds.
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.
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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.
The most important thing to remember is to be courteous and careful. Never insist on the right of way at the risk of a crash.
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 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 right 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 www.commuteoptions.org.
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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.
- 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, www.tripcheck.com.
- 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.
- Know how to put your chains on. Practice installing them before your trip.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to chain up. Pull over to a safe level area such as a designated chain-up area. Wear reflective, warm clothing and lie with your legs pointed away from the travel lane.
- Drivers who disobey signs requiring chains are subject to citations and fines.
- 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.
- Drive cautiously and wear your safety belt.
- Winter safety for commercial vehicles video – this video features tips from ODOT Maintenance staff and May Trucking, an Oregon-based motor carrier with an above-average safety record.
- Pick up a chain information card at ports of entry or ODOT Motor Carrier offices.
- Oregon’s travel information website, www.tripcheck.com 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.
Maintenance minimizes impacts on natural resources
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ODOT’s winter highway maintenance practices reduce costs and limit impacts on natural resources while maintaining high standards for public safety — our No. 1 priority. ODOT’s natural resource-friendly maintenance practices during snow removal include:
- Reducing plowing speeds in sensitive areas.
- Minimizing snow blowing into sensitive areas.
Sanding material is sometimes applied on roads and bridges to provide better traction for safer driving. ODOT’s practices minimize effects on natural resources by:
- Reducing application rates and frequency of sanding when weather and traffic conditions allow.
- Minimizing sanding in areas with air-quality problems or near waterways and other sensitive areas.
- Placing barriers to capture sanding material along sensitive waterways.
The use of deicers is a valuable and effective way to provide a reasonably safe road surface during winter conditions. Deicer products can be used as an anti-icer before a storm to help prevent ice and snow from bonding to the road, and as a deicer after a storm to help break the bond between ice and road. Use of these products helps reduce the use of sand — and that limits impacts on air quality, water quality and aquatic habitat. ODOT uses:
- The lowest application rate necessary to achieve desired road conditions.
- Environmentally safe products that meet the strict specifications of the Pacific Northwest Snowfighters, a consortium of western states and provinces.
ODOT is conducting a five-year pilot project on two highways to determine whether sale, used in combination with the snow fighting tools we already use, improves highway safety and mobility with minimal impact to the environment. The two test areas (FAQ)
connect Oregon with other states that already use salt on the same highways:
- U.S. 95, in southeastern Oregon, runs about 121 miles between Nevada and Idaho, which both use salt. ODOT is experimenting with using salt in limited situations on this highway except in an area near a city water supply.
- Interstate 5 over the Siskiyou Pass connects Oregon with California, which already uses salt on the Interstate. ODOT is experimenting with using salt in limited situations on 11 miles of this highway.
We believe protecting the environment while providing a safe transportation system is a smart move. Plowing, sanding and using deicers do not, however, make the road completely safe. Always drive at speeds appropriate for road and weather conditions.
ODOT’s winter maintenance practices may not reflect the practices used on county or city roadways. Contact your city or county for that information.
Videos and Public Service Announcements
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Connect to Oregon DOT videos through our YouTube channel or click on one of the links below.
Public Service Announcements
Additional information and statistics
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- Travelers on Oregon roads experience the most crashes every year in December, with an average of more than 4,300 crashes across the state over the past five years. November is close behind, averaging 4,000 crashes.
- Rain in the western part of the state contributes to uncertain road conditions, as does snow in higher elevations and high desert. Be extra alert in the winter months!
- One common driver error causing crashes last year was "driving too fast for conditions." Almost 10 percent of crashes had this error as the main reason for the crash. Every year, in fact, "driving too fast for conditions" shows up as one of the most common reasons for crashes. Slow down! You must make adjustments in your driving when road conditions have changed.
- With more than 1.6 million visitors per month, www.tripcheck.com provides valuable road and weather information to enhance safety around the state.
- Additional crash statistics are available through ODOT's Crash Analysis Reporting Unit.