Winter Driving

Winter Driving

By Matt Komac, Assistant Director - PC Pool Operations

 For well over half the year here in Montana, drivers must deal with potentially dangerous winter road conditions.  So, as we quickly approach the heart of winter, we wanted to share some best practices to help keep you safe on the road.  

The first thing you should do prior to any trip is to check the road conditions.  If there are hazardous conditions, then consider delaying or rescheduling to avoid risks.  If the conditions are bad and travel is absolutely necessary, then you’ll want to make sure your vehicle is road-ready. The following is a suggested pre-winter checklist for your vehicle:

  • Purchase quality winter tires for the winter months; from October 1—May 31, Montana allows studded snow tires, which provide excellent traction on icy roads.
  • Ensure the vehicle has recently had a multi-point inspection that includes checking the condition of the radiator, heater hoses, and fan belts.
  • Verify that your heater is in good working order; while helping you to stay warm, the heater will also keep your windshield defrosted for good visibility.
  • Check the windshield wipers, battery, tires, lights, exhaust system, and replace and refill fluids as necessary.
  • Fuel as frequently during the winter months in case you get stranded on the road.
  • Keep an ice scraper and a snow brush in your vehicle to remove snow and ice before you go.

Because much of Montana is sparsely populated and lacks good cell phone reception, make sure that at least one person knows where you are traveling before you go and is aware of when you will be arriving at your destination. Also, before you depart, make sure you have a winter survival/emergency kit so that, if your vehicle does break down, you’ll be prepared. This kit can be customized to fit your needs, but at a minimum, it should include 1) a first aid kit, 2) a tool kit for minor repairs, 3) jumper cables, 4) sleeping bag or blanket, 5) warm clothes (including hat, gloves, etc.), 6) winter boots, 7) matches/lighter, a candle, 8) an empty can in case you need to melt snow for water, and, finally, 9) non-perishable food that won’t be affected by temperature changes. 

Now that the car is ready, here are some tips to help you be a better winter driver:

  • Allow enough time to get to your destination.
  • Slow down. Everything – accelerating, stopping, turning, etc. – takes longer on snow-covered roads. 
  • Give yourself time to react by driving slower. 
  • Be familiar with the particulars of your vehicle.
    • Do you have antilock brakes? 
    • All-wheel drive? 
    • Traction control?
    • Make certain you are knowledgeable about and accustomed to, the types of brakes your vehicle has and how long it takes it under various conditions to slow down.  Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure to the brake pedal – obviously, a school bus is going to take much longer to stop than smaller private passenger vehicles. 
    • Yet regardless of what make or model of vehicle you are driving, always maintain the appropriate distance between you and the automobile ahead. 
  • See and be seen. Keep the windows, headlights, and taillights clean.
  • Stay calm and do not let other drivers aggravate you.
  • Avoid passing when possible; and when you must pass, do not pull back in front of the other vehicle until you can see both of its headlights in your rearview mirror.
  • Stay with your vehicle if it breaks down. If you begin to feel tired, pull over and rest.
  • Take frequent short breaks for fresh air and a walk around the vehicle.
  • Remember that under state law the snowplow always has the right of way (this is because, while moving snow, the snowplow drivers CANNOT see other traffic well).
  • Be extra cautious at night, at dawn, and at dusk, as animals tend to be closer to the road in winter conditions and will even be attracted by the salt put down by the snowplows.
  • If due to poor driving conditions you must pull over, or if you become stuck, stay with your vehicle and wait out the storm. Again, while waiting for help, put on your flashers.
  • Finally, and most importantly, buckle your seat belt before you start driving!

We encourage all school employees to view the Safe Schools online training video titled “Winter Driving.”  The 15-minute course reviews the hazards of winter driving, covers strategies for avoiding accidents, identifies physical limitations of vehicles as they relate to winter driving, and skid avoidance, skid control, and skid recovery.

Please, when driving in the dangerous winter conditions keep in mind the safety of your passengers and others on the road.  If you have any questions regarding winter driving, please contact MSGIA at 877-667-7392. Return to newsletter