Winter driving in Gallatin County can be a scary, nerve-wracking, or flat out dreaded experience for some. And since here in Montana, we are bound to have many days of extreme winter driving conditions, we might as well learn to make the best of it.
As holiday travel begins, we’ve compiled some of the the best words of advice we could find to keep you safe and prepared for the inevitable icy, wet, or snowy roads. Smart driving is safer driving during any season, but a little extra knowledge goes a long way to keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers safe throughout Montana’s long winters.
Winter Vehicle Maintenance
- Consider changing current performance or even all-season tires to winter tires.
- Make sure tires are inflated properly before driving on icy, snowy, or wet roads. Use a tire gauge to ensure tires are inflated to the proper pounds per square inch (PSI). The correct PSI for a cold tire is located on the tire itself, noted by the manufacturer.
- Check your tires for signs of wear by checking tread depth. Tire treat is considered worn when the depth is 1/16 of an inch or less. To determine, place a penny head-side down at various locations on the tread. If the top of President Lincoln’s head is visible, or not covered by the tread, it is worn and the tire should be replaced.
- Check windshield wipers, and replace if damaged.
- Change windshield wiper fluid to a winter mix that contains a de-icer.
- Weak batteries should be replaced. Cold weather is harsh on batteries, especially in those vehicles that are parked outdoors.
- Check radiator to ensure proper amount of antifreeze. Half antifreeze, half water mix is ideal for the car’s performance.
Driving on Icy Roads
Before you drive anywhere in the winter, check the weather and road reports to see if roads are icy, wet, or snow-covered. To find these links, check out our Weather page here: https://www.healthygallatin.org/healthy-homes/weather/. If you can’t avoid driving, and the roads are icy or snowy, make sure to follow ALL of these steps to keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers safe on the road.
- Leave yourself plenty of time to reach your destination, and leave earlier than you would on a regular, snow-free or ice-free day.
- Drive slower than the posted speed limit. Posted speed limits are meant for clear, dry roads, and are not optimal for icy, snowy, or wet roads. Higher speeds will increase risk of hydroplaning or sliding.
- Leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. Remember, cars take longer to stop on slick roads.
- Begin braking sooner than usual. This way, if your car does start to slide, you will have more time to react, making it more likely to avoid a collision with the person in front of you.
- Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
- Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
- Keep your lights and windshield clean.
- Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
- Never use cruise control or overdrive on icy or wet roads.
- Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses, and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
- Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
- Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.
If Your Rear Wheels Skid
- Take your foot off the accelerator.
- Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
- If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
- If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
- If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.
If Your Front Wheels Skid
- Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
- As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
If You Get Stuck
- Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
- Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
- Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
- Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
- Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels to help get traction.
- Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
If You Become Stranded
- Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and if are certain you will improve your situation.
- To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
- If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
- To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
- Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.
- Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist.
(Reprinted with permission from the National Safety Council)
Supplies to Have in Your Car
- Warm gloves
- Warm hat
- Warm socks
- Warm blankets
- Non-perishable, high-energy food items (dried fruit, hard candy, canned nuts, granola bars)
- Bottled water
- First-aid kit
- Basic tool kit
- Candles and matches in waterproof container
- Emergency triangles and/or flares
- Sand or kitty litter
- Jumper cables
- Flashlight/head lamp
- Batteries for flashlight/head lamp
- Snow brush with scraper
- Tow chains, straps, or come-along
- Spare tire
- Local area road maps
Be sure to replenish after use!
Information from these lists is courtesy of www.weather.com , http://www.autobidmaster.com/articles/Winter-Weather-Tips-for-Cars/, and the Montana Disaster and Emergency Survival Guide here http://mdt.mt.gov/publications/docs/brochures/winter_maint/winter_survival.pdf.
For more information about weather in Gallatin County, click here.
For more information about Emergency Preparedness in Gallatin County, click here.