What Holiday Travelers Should Know About Chain Controls in California's Mountains

Heading into California's mountains? There's a chance you'll need to know about installing tire chains

Snow and ice are expected to plague holiday travelers venturing into Southern California's canyons and passes this week as a cold storm lashes the region.

How much snow? 

Here's a look at estimated accumulations for the three-day storm.

  • Above 3,000 feet (pass level): From 1 to 10 inches
  • Above 5,000 feet (Wrightwood, Big Bear, Idyllwild): From 10 to 24 inches
  • Above 7,000 feet: More than 2 feet

When highway signs in those areas indicate they're required, drivers must stop and install tire chains. Failing to do so can result in a citation and fine.

Below, some things to know from the Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol. 

The Basics

  • If you don't have chains, check your vehicle manufacturer's specifications.
  • Control areas can change because weather and road conditions change. Be aware and watch for signs.
  • When chains are required, the speed limit is 25 to 30 mph.
  • Make sure you're completely off the road to the right when installing chains. Do not stop in a traffic lane.
  • If using a chain installation service, get a receipt and the installer's badge number. Chain installers are not Caltrans employees.
  • You'll see "End of Chain Control" signs when it's OK to remove chains. Drive beyond the signs, pull off the road and safely remove them.

There are three levels of chain requirements to know in California's mountain areas. 

  • Requirement 1: Chains are required on all vehicles except passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks under 6,000 pounds gross weight that are equipped with snow tires on at least two drive wheels. Chains must be carried by vehicles using snow tires. All vehicles towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle. Trailers with brakes must have chains on at least one axle.
  • Requirement 2: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles except four- and all-wheel-drive vehicles with snow-tread tires on all four wheels. Four- and all-wheel-drive vehicles must carry traction devices in chain control areas.
  • Requirement 3: Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions.

Information: Call the Caltrans Highway Information Network at 800-427-7623 or check this map.

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