Winter driving intimidates even the most skilled drivers. However, knowing the preventative measures you can take when traveling will improve your ability to keep yourself and others safe.
Research Weather and Road Conditions
Most of us prefer to stay hunkered down in our homes after seeing a winter weather advisory flash on our television or phone screens, but when you must venture out, knowledge is your best friend.
“If you have to make the trip, check the weather forecast,” advises State Farm agent Pam Hansen Alfred.
For travelling Montana highways, the Montana Department of Transportation’s frequently updated Road Report is available for viewing online. The Road Report includes a map of the entire state with its major highways outlined in different colors signifying road conditions and road closures. There are also links to live camera feeds. Known as the Road Weather Information System (RWIS), these 73 cameras are positioned statewide to help travelers plan their time on blustery highways.
Planning around road conditions also means not rushing your trip. “Changing your departure time by an hour or two could matter,” says Alfred. “Be sure to allow extra time because you are not going to keep the same pace as you would in the summer because of reduced speed and the intensity and fatigue required to drive in poor conditions.”
Pack the Right Tools to Get Out of a Jam
Outfitting your vehicle for potential road hazards goes a long way towards relieving some of the anxiety surrounding winter driving. A winter coat, a small shovel, and sand or kitty litter for traction are winter must-haves for drivers.
“If you do slide off the road and the snow is not very deep, you can try to free the vehicle yourself by placing cat litter or sand underneath your tires and rocking your car back and forth,” says Alfred.
This tactic also works if your tires have trouble clearing packed snow. Be sure to remove as much snow as possible around your tires beforehand. For this, a shovel comes in handy.
Alfred also cautions drivers to prepare for icy windshields, which can creep up on drivers as temperatures change throughout the day and night. “Make sure you travel with a snow brush and a snow scraper,” says Alfred. “Always clean all the ice and snow off all your windows before driving. You can use a credit card as a scraper in a pinch, but it’s rather slow going.”
Alfred also reminds drivers to keep their windshield washer fluid full and to check it regularly.
Understand Black Ice
Below freezing temperatures coupled with rain create this dangerous sheath on roadways. When snow accrues above it, black ice is nearly undetectable.
Do not be fooled by its name. Black ice is not actually black, rather a clear coating of ice that takes on the color of the ground beneath it, such as gray concrete.
Black ice develops during the evening and through sunrise when temperatures are lowest. Shaded areas and bridges are common locations for black ice.
Whether you are on residential streets or the highway, disciplined driving is necessary. Alfred elaborates, “The general rule is to do as little as possible and allow the car or truck to pass over the ice. Do not hit the brakes and try to keep the steering wheel straight.”
Be Wary of Animals on Roadways
Montana Wildlife on roads is a hazard during any season, but wintertime factors can increase the likelihood of accidentally colliding with animals, especially larger game.
Deer specifically are common on Montana roads. In winter, attempts to melt ice with salt attract animals like deer and they spend their time feasting on roadways.
According to Farmers’ Almanac, peak times for deer activity are between 6 and 9 p.m. Deer also exhibit more energy during their mating season, which lasts from October through early January, coinciding with winter.
When you encounter a deer or any large animal on the roadway, it is imperative to keep calm. Alfred advises, “Do not panic, do not swerve but do slow down as much as possible. If you should hit an animal, especially a large one, stay inside your vehicle and call 911. An injured moose, elk or deer can be very dangerous to approach.”
Winter roads challenge even the most experienced drivers. Those newly licensed or taking on their first few icy seasons should exhibit extra caution.
“Stay home and if that isn’t possible, drive slowly, increase your distance from the cars in front of you and don’t stop going up a hill.”
When stopping midway up an icy hill, your vehicle will slide down and can potentially slide sideways, creating serious problems.
“We paid on a claim where an inexperienced driver was going so slowly up the hill that he couldn’t continue and the car ended up sliding sideways. The driver got out of the car, slid underneath the car and another vehicle ran into his car and him and he was severely injured.”
Maintaining a safe but practical speed is ideal. “Always have enough speed to be able to continue up the hill,” says Alfred.
For further assistance on your insurance needs, reach out to Pam Hansen Alfred and her team at (406) 453-6010, stop by their offices at 2817 10th Ave. So., or visit www.pamhansenalfred.com.
2817 10th Ave S
Great Falls, MT