When travel plans take you to Western Montana in the winter, you may find yourself with limited driving experience on icy and snow packed roads. Even if you are an old hand at driving in inclement weather, it’s sometimes easy to forget how quickly conditions can change. There’s no question that winter weather conditions bring about an increase in accidents but snow doesn’t have to dampen your winter travel plans or your fun.
Here are a few tips that will help keep you safe when driving on snow and ice while you’re visiting Missoula:
- Make sure the vehicle you are driving has appropriate tires for winter. Snow tires or all-weather tires are the ideal choice for winter driving.
- If possible, consider driving a vehicle equipped with all-wheel or 4-wheel drive for increased traction and stability in snowy conditions. Thrifty Missoula has 4-wheel drive vehicles at the ready for renting. (Keep in mind that 4-wheel drive does NOT help stop on ice, nor does it help you steer. Slow down!)
- Respect icy and snowy roads. The best snow tires and all-wheel drive cannot make up for recklessness or driver error.
- Allow plenty of time for braking. Brake slowly with plenty of distance between you and the vehicle or light in front of you. Tap the brakes to gradually slow down. Suddenly slamming the brakes will increase the likelihood of losing control of the vehicle.
- If your vehicle does start to spin, steer into the spin. Do not steer in the opposite direction. Steering to the opposite of a spin will almost always cause you to lose control.
- If you are not sure whether the roads are icy or just wet, watch the cars in front of you closely. If the car in front is throwing up slush or spray, the roads are most likely wet. If it is not, then they are likely icy. Always drive accordingly. If you are still unsure, always err on the side of caution and assume it is ice.
- If you are new to winter roads or inexperienced in these conditions, take time to practice braking, spinning, and spin recovery in an empty parking lot. This will help you get a better feel for the roads and the vehicle you are driving.
- Always drive defensively! Even if you feel comfortable on snow and ice, other drivers may not. Watch for drivers that are driving too fast for conditions and keep your distance. Pay close attention to other vehicles as they approach stop signs and stop lights. Even if you have the right away, it is not worth an accident if they are unable to stop before reaching the intersection.
So get out there and enjoy all that western Montana winter has to offer, but be safe!