Safe Driving Tips

Safe Driving Tips

By Annette Satterly, Risk Management Associate and Harry Cheff, Risk Management Associate

Anyone who has had a teenage driver in the house has experienced the sticker shock that comes with that first notice you get from your insurance provider. The unusually high rates are tied to the fact that providers know well that teenage drivers are not experienced at recognizing and navigating the kinds of hazards that often lead to accidents. 

And in Montana, nearly half the year, the hazards are of an altogether different order and magnitude due to the dangerous winter weather conditions. It is as if we are teenagers and must learn how to drive all over again because of winter-related changes. You can only control certain variables during the winter driving conditions, such as your speed, your following distance, and your vehicle's condition. You can nonetheless take preplanned precautions and follow several best practices to help keep yourself and others safe. These include but certainly are not limited to the following:    

  • Slow down—the posted speed limits are for dry roads.
  • Reduce your speed to allow for extra room to slow down and stop.
  • Look further ahead than you usually do.
  • Steer gently, avoid harsh braking and rapid acceleration.
  • Proper braking requires that you shift into a lower gear than usual to allow your speed to fall so that you can then brake gently.
  • Use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin.
  • Always check the road conditions—if there are hazardous conditions, consider delaying or rescheduling; if travel is essential, make sure your vehicle is road-ready.
  • Finally, when the roads are bad to the point of being very dangerous, please don't attempt to "out-drive" the conditions—again, we can't change the weather, so we must change our driving strategies. And for additional reminders and precautions, please view the 15-minute MSGIA Safe Schools online class titled "Winter Driving."

Vans vs. Cars

Many school districts are transporting students in vans. Though MSGIA encourages the use of buses rather than vans whenever possible, there will be times when the use of a van is more practical. Driving a passenger van differs in many notable ways from driving a car. Accordingly, Safe Schools offers this helpful information for those transporting students and staff in vans. In terms of the challenges that accompany driving vans, as opposed to cars, it is useful to bear in mind that

  1. Vans typically have rear-wheel drive instead of the front or all-wheel drive, which makes them harder to drive in inclement weather.
  2. Due to the weight of vehicle weight (including passengers and cargo), vans require a longer stopping distance.
  3. Due to their size and design, vans are much more challenging to back up than cars (most slow-speed collisions in vans occur when backing up).
  4. Vans generally have a wider turning radius.

In light of the differences and the challenges they present, we recommend the following kinds of adjustments to driving a van:

  1. Use the "Four-Second Rule for Safe Following Distance"; the space between your van and a vehicle you are following should take no fewer than four seconds to close (ideally longer).
  2. Before driving on wet or slippery roads, check to determine if the van is equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).
  3. Travel at the same speed on highways and interstates as recommended for commercial vehicles and trucks.
  4. Avoid drowsy or inattentive driving, especially on long, empty stretches of highways.
  5. Take breaks as needed to stay alert.

Regardless of whether you are driving a car or van, always be mindful of as you travel the highways of Montana of these best safety practices:

  • Allow enough time to get to your destination.
  • Be familiar with the particulars of your vehicle.
  • Keep a log of regular maintenance on District vehicles and note whether there has been a multi-point inspection,
  • Be sure that the heater works and that tires are in good condition and properly inflated.
  • Keep an ice scraper and a snow brush in your vehicle to remove snow and ice.
  • Make sure you have a winter survival/emergency kit in case your vehicle breaks down.

Plan for the following: 

  1. Stay with your vehicle if it breaks down.
  2. Pay attention when you are driving.
  3. If you begin to feel tired, pull over to a safe spot off the highway, and rest.
  4. Remember that under state law, the snowplow always has the right of way. While moving snow, the snowplow drivers have minimal visibility and CANNOT see other traffic well.
  5. Be extra cautious at night, dawn, and dusk. Animals tend to be closer to the road in winter conditions and can be attracted by the salt put down by the snowplows.
  6. If you must pull over due to poor driving conditions, or if you become stuck, stay with your vehicle, and wait out the storm.  
  7. Put on your flashers while waiting in your vehicle for help to arrive.
  8. Always buckle your seat belt before you start driving!

The health, safety, and welfare of District employees and the students trusted to their care is a priority at MSGIA. Our goal is that everyone who departs then returns home safely to their loved ones. 

With that in mind, we encourage all school employees to view the Safe Schools online training videos related to driving district-owned vehicles. They include Distracted Driving (12 min), Defensive Driving (19 min), Van Safety (21 min), and 15-Person Van Safety (19 min). Each course offers simple reminders on the safe operation of district-owned vehicles.

If you have any questions, please contact MSGIA at 877-667-7392. Return to newsletter