Driving in Bad Weather
Driving on Mountain Roads

Tips For Safe Mountain Driving (w/ Pictures)

Updated Sept. 11, 2019

Mountain driving can be challenging, due to the frequently changing weather conditions and elevated concentration required of the driver on mountain roads. You have to learn a number of advanced driving skills before you get up there and novice drivers are strongly discouraged from driving in the mountains until they gain some experience in a safer training environment. On the other hand, driving in the mountains can be an immensely joyous experience, with a great scenery surrounding the driver every mile of the way. Following these mountain driving safely tips that will keep you out of trouble whenever you are up there!

Getting Ready

It is important that you conduct a pre-drive check up and make sure your vehicle is in good condition before you set out on the road. Your vehicle's performance usually diminishes in the mountains, so you have to make sure all systems are functioning well before you get up there.

Check your brakes. Make sure your brakes are working before you get to those long descents. Your brakes will be doing a lot of work in the mountains and you need to know they are up to the task. If you observe the recommended service intervals for your vehicle, you should be covered, but it never hurts to check one more time.

Check your brakes before going into the mountains

Examine the tires. Your tires must be inflated to the recommended pressure and have enough tread on them. Look for bumps and cuts on all wheels and make sure you have a spare. The tires will heat up during long descents and you may experience a blowout. If you notice anything suspicious about one of the tires, have it replaced before you set off. If you have a blowout while driving in the mountains, follow these steps to recover from a tire blowout safely.

Examine your tires to avoid flats

Verify the vehicle's coolant level. Your engine will be working at high revs most of the time while driving in the mountains, this produces excess heat and your cooling system will be the one to take the punch. If you had any troubles with the engine cooling system previously, have it checked out.

Check the vehicle's coolant level to avoid overheating

Clean your windscreen to avoid glare, make sure the headlights are clean and operational, verify that the wipers are working. This should be part of your every day pre-drive check up routine.

Clean your windshield to avoid glare and improve visibility

Driving Rules

The rules of mountain driving are not that different from the rules you have to observe while driving anywhere else, however there are a few additional laws that you need to be aware of.

Whenever two vehicles meet on a steep one lane mountain road, the vehicle traveling downhill must yield to the vehicle traveling uphill by backing up until the vehicle traveling uphill can safely pass. The reason behind this is that the vehicle facing downhill has the greater amount of control when backing up.

The vehicle traveling uphill has the right of way over the vehicle traveling downhill

When you are traveling downhill and the road before you narrows, stop and yield to any vehicles traveling in the opposite direction BEFORE you reach the narrow space so you will not have to back up.

Some states require that you use your horn where you cannot see at least 200 feet ahead of your vehicle and this applies to mountain driving too. If there is a sharp curve ahead and you cannot see what's on the other side of the curve, give at least one sharp blast. Remember when it is appropriate to use the horn.

Sound your horn in low visibility

Have your headlights on when you are driving on mountain roads. A number of states, such as California, explicitly require for you to have your headlights on when driving in the mountains, while it is only a recommendation for others. Either way, there will be no harm from having the headlights on and this may help you avoid a head-on collision. Make sure you use your low-beam headlights.

Keep your headlights on to make you more noticable on the road

Driving Safety Tips

Watch your speed. If there is one thing to remember about mountain driving, this is it: do not speed on mountain roads, travel at or below the recommended speed, depending on road conditions. Mountain driving places a lot of strain on your vehicle's braking system and its performance diminishes as your brake pads are heating up. When you are traveling downhill, you need significantly more braking power to stop the vehicle compared to traveling on even ground and it is easy to underestimate the stopping distance. Furthermore, at high altitudes, the road may be covered in ice even during summer, something most drivers do not expect.

Slow down when going through a curve

Check traffic behind you through the mirrors while traveling downhill. Vehicles build up speed moving down a steep grade, if you see a large vehicle or a truck approaching you too fast, try to move over to the right and give them enough space to pass in case their brakes are failing.

When you are parking in the mountains, observe the rules for parking on hills: turn your wheels towards the center of the road only if you are parking uphill and there is a curb. Turn the wheels towards the right side of the road when you are parked uphill or downhill and there is no curb and when you are parked downhill and there is a curb present.

Parking on a hill when there is a curb present

Use engine braking. When traveling downhill, you can use engine braking to slow the vehicle and prevent your brakes from overheating and fading. Engine braking involves shifting into a lower gear and allowing the engine to battle that gravity. Despite what many novice drivers think, engine braking is not only for vehicles with manual transmission, most automatic transmissions have low gears to. Depending on your vehicle and the speed you are traveling at, you may have to use 2nd, 3rd or L gear to slow the vehicle.

Switch to low gear to use engine braking

Passing. Passing in the mountains will be forbidden in most places, since mountain roads consist of a large number of curves and you cannot see far enough to make a pass safely. When you are in a place where passing is legal, remember that passing in the mountains is a little more tricky than doing so on even grounds. Your vehicle's performance diminishes at high altitudes and you will need more horse powers to pass when you are traveling uphill. Considering these things, always allow yourself more space when passing in the mountains.

Avoid passing on mountain roads

Take a break. Mountain driving is more stressful and requires a lot more concentration than regular driving, so you are likely to get tired. Take frequent breaks and rest as much as possible, a fatigued driver is a bad driver.

Rest frequently and avoid driving while tired

If you find yourself going through the mountains in winter, make sure to follow the steps to safe winter driving.

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!

TAKE A FREE TEST

Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 3 votes.

Read next

Driving on Steep and Icy Hills
Driving in Bad Weather 14 of 19

Driving on Steep and Icy Hills

Starting and parking on hills may be challenging to inexperienced drivers due to the fact that the vehicle does not remain stationary when the parking brake is disengaged. Learning a few simple techniques and practicing them diligently whenever you have to drive or park your vehicle on a hill will ensure your safety and allow you to tackle even the steepest of ascents.

Night Driving
Driving in Bad Weather 15 of 19

Driving at Night

Driving at night is considerably more difficult and dangerous than driving during the day. Reduced visibility is one of the main reasons that driving at night is so dangerous. You must drive more slowly at night, as limited visibility extends reaction time. The average motorist needs substantially more time to stop when driving at night that they would during the day.

Traction in Hazardous Driving Environments
Driving in Bad Weather 16 of 19

Traction in Hazardous Environments

Many hazardous roadway situations can lead to loss of traction in your vehicle’s tires. The word “traction” describes a tire’s ability to grip the surface of the road. Without traction, your wheels cannot roll and will simply slide across the surface of the road instead. Maintaining traction is necessary to be able to stop, start and steer your vehicle.

Review
Driving in Bad Weather 7 of 19

Driving in Strong Wind

Strong winds can sometimes be a problem for car drivers. They are especially dangerous for lightweight cars, vehicles towing trailers, campers and other high-sided recreational vehicles. When driving in very windy conditions, reducing your speed is the best way to avoid an accident.

Driving in Bad Weather 8 of 19

Driving in Snow & Ice

Driving when there is snow or ice on the roads is extremely treacherous. Snow or ice between your tires and the surface of the road will greatly reduce traction, thus increasing the distance it takes to stop. Ice is generally more dangerous than snow, as it is very difficult to see.

Driving in Bad Weather 9 of 19

Driving in a Blizzard

Blizzards combine the limited visibility of fog with the slippery roads you can expect from ice and snow. Driving in a blizzard makes it incredibly difficult to see what is going on around you and maintain control of your vehicle. The best defense against a blizzard is simply not to drive in one in the first place.

Driving in Bad Weather 10 of 19

Getting Out of Mud & Snow

Vehicles that have not been properly prepared for winter driving conditions can easily become stuck in snow or ice. In other situations, deep mud or even sand can be enough to ground your vehicle. You may be able to maneuver your way out of trouble when your car gets stuck in mud or snow, without any specialist equipment.

Driving in Bad Weather 11 of 19

Using Snow Chains

In extremely cold, snowy or mountainous regions, using snow chains may be the only way to keep your vehicle moving. Snow chains work by increasing traction, or the “grip” your tires have on the surface of the road. Winter tires have a similar function, though they may not provide enough traction to get your vehicle out of extremely slippery situations or very deep snow.

Driving in Bad Weather 12 of 19

Driving in Hot Weather

Driving in extremely hot weather can be harmful to your health, and the health of your vehicle. Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States. When traveling in very hot weather, always keep an eye on the temperature warning light. If it goes on, or if the gauge enters the red zone, pull your vehicle over to the side of the road and stop. Keep well away from traffic and park in the shade, if any is available.