Winter Driving

Driving in wintry weather can be tricky and downright dangerous. Better roads and better vehicles don't take the place of careful driving.

Snow CrossingWhen driving conditions are treacherous, stay home. If you must leave home, use mass transit. If you must drive, make sure you and your vehicle are ready for current driving conditions.

To keep your experience with winter driving from becoming a crash-course, here are a few tips.

Plan ahead

  • Check road conditions. For state highways, visit or call 511. For Washington County roads, visit or call 503-846-ROAD (846-7623).
  • Check weather forecasts. During threatening weather, adjust travel plans accordingly.
  • Let someone know your travel plans and check in when you've arrived.
  • Give yourself plenty of extra time to reach your destination.


Prepare your vehicle

  • Keep fuel tank at least half full.
  • Clear snow, ice or frost from windows, wipers, lights, hood, and mirrors.  
  • Clean and check headlights, brake lights and turn signals.
  • Be sure tires are properly inflated and in good condition.
  • Carry tire chains and know how to use them.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle.


On the road

  • Drive rested, alert and sober.
  • Always buckle your safety belt and see that your passengers do, too.
  • Slow down. Do not drive faster than your vision permits. Remember that posted speed limits are set for clear, dry conditions.
  • Increase following distance to ensure enough reaction time and stopping distance. Be ready for emergency stops by other vehicles. Keep at least three times the normal following distance from vehicles in front of you on snow or ice.
  • Use windshield wipers and the defroster, as needed, to maximize your ability to see.
  • Drive with your low-beam headlights on so other drivers can see your vehicle better.
  • Turn off your cruise control so you are in control of your vehicle.
  • Signal early and brake gently. Plan ahead when approaching intersections to brake smoothly.
  • Do not change lanes or pass other vehicles unless absolutely necessary.
  • Watch out for snowplows, sanders and de-icing equipment as you round corners and curves. Slow down. Road equipment will pull over to let traffic by as soon as it is safe.


In case of trouble

  • Treat traffic signals that are not working as an all-way stop. Come to a full stop, look both ways, then when safe proceed cautiously through the intersection. If there is other traffic, the driver who stops first goes first. If in doubt, yield to the driver on your right.
  • Stay away from downed power lines. Never assume a downed line is "dead."
  • Do not drive through standing water or water moving across the roadway.
  • In low visibility conditions, use the right edge of the road or roadside reflectors as a guide. If you cannot see, pull completely off the road, and turn on your hazard lights.
  • During heavy rain, use the center lanes (without straddling the yellow line). Avoid outside lanes where water collects at curbside.
  • If you start to skid, ease your foot off the accelerator and turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the front of the car to go. Hold the steering wheel firmly, and avoid making sudden turns. Use a light touch to correct a skid.
  • If you are being followed too closely, increase your following distance behind the vehicle ahead so that you can slow down or brake gradually.
  • When you see deer or other animals ahead, slow down and be ready to stop until you are safely past them.
  • Do not blaze your own trail on unplowed roads or through snowdrifts. You may get stuck instead.
  • Respect road closures. It is unlawful to move or drive around a road closure barricade.


Who to call for help or to report a hazard

  • To request emergency response for a life-threatening situation – call 9-1-1
  • To report a non-emergency road hazard:
  • After-hours - call 503-629-0111
  • During business hours:
  • For a state highway – call ODOT at 503-283-5859
  • For a county road – call Washington County at 503-846-ROAD (846-7623)
  • For a city street – call that city


What to expect

With 1,300 miles of road to take care of, we're able to plow and sand only the identified priority routes. So don't expect neighborhood streets or back roads to be sanded or plowed.

County employees may assist stranded motorists by contacting law enforcement or other emergency personnel. County employees will not attempt to remove or extract vehicles.


Other resources:

Snow and Ice Removal

ODOT's Winter Driving Tips