Mountain Road Driving Safety – Tips You Need

Staying Safe On Mountain Roads

One of the major perks of living in Colorado is having some of the best mountain ranges right in your backyard! Whether you’re planning a tour of Rocky Mountain National Park, cruising through on I70, or summiting Pike’s Peak, the steep slopes on narrow mountain roads can present major challenges for you and your vehicle if you’re unprepared. Follow these tips to make your mountain journey safer.

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Vehicle Precautions

Steep up and down-hill grades are no joke, and if you’re not careful, they can put major strains on your vehicle. Before you head out, make sure your vehicle is up to date on repairs and maintenance, and pay extra attention to your brakes, suspension, steering, and cooling system — if any of these fail in the mountains, things can get dangerous.

In addition to ensuring your vehicle is in top-shape, there are some universal precautions you should take when driving in the mountains.

overhead photo of winding mountain road

Prevent Overheating

Climbing up steep roads puts your engine at risk of overheating. If you notice your vehicle struggling on the up-hill climb, shift into a lower gear and turn off your A/C as it puts additional strains on the engine. Once at the summit, let your engine idle for a few minutes so your vehicle can cool down. If your vehicle starts to overheat, find a safe space to pull over. In the absence of a safe pull-off spot, you may be able to buy some time by turning on your car’s heater to the highest setting and letting some of the engine’s heat “bleed off.”

Use Lower Gears on Downhill Stretches

Now that you’ve made it to the top, make sure your car survives the descent by using your engine and transmission instead of your brakes to slow down. Before you start down, shift to a low gear (normally “L” or “2” for automatics). If you start smelling a burning smell, pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and let your brakes cool down. If you think there’s an issue with your brakes, stay where you are and call for help, lest you become a runaway car!

Keep a Full Tank

Driving through the mountains can be a lonely journey, with towns and gas stations few and far between. Make sure you have enough gas for your journey and then some, because you never know when an avalanche, rock slide, or accident blocks the road and forces you to find an alternate route. A good rule of thumb is to stop and fill up as soon as you reach half a tank.

Safe Mountain Driving Tips

While your vehicle may be in mountain shape, there are some added things to focus on and be aware of as a driver.

Sign Language

Pay attention to posted warning signs, as these will advise of curves, steep hills, falling rocks, and animal crossings. Additionally, make sure you know what the speed limit is, do not tailgate, and err on the side of caution as you never know when someone will have to make a sudden stop.
Hazards – Make sure you’re scanning the road ahead for hazards like rocks, forest debris, or animals. Steep grades and poor lines of sight mean you’ll need to be hyper-vigilant and ready to react to whatever is around the bend, especially at night. If traveling down-hill, keep tabs on large vehicles like semi-trailers or buses behind you, and be prepared to move out of the way if they seem to be moving too fast or have lost their brakes.

Share the Road

Watch for bicyclists and be sure to give them the 3ft buffer zone required by law. If there is no shoulder, bicyclists may be riding in the lane, and it’s on you to make sure you see them.
Right of way – Vehicles traveling uphill have right of way due to the difficulty they’d have in moving forward after stopping. Downhill vehicles generally must either stop to provide sufficient room for passing or back up to a wider place.

Passing

If you’re driving slowly or notice a line of cars building up behind you, pull into a turnout or into the right lane, if available, to let fast-moving traffic pass. Only pass slow-moving traffic when you have a dedicated passing lane or have a dotted/broken median and a clear view of the road ahead.

Offline Maps

GPS and cell signal may disappear without warning when traveling through mountains and valleys. Make sure you know where you’re going by having a paper map, printed directions, or by downloading maps to use offline.

Related Article: How To Reduce Driving Distratctions

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