If you're a Montanan, then you're probably familiar with how every winter, when we get our first big snow, everyone forgets how to drive. You may have discovered this is the case yourself; we did on the way to the office. Not that we forgot, of course, but everyone else did. The editorial staff at Distinctly Montana Magazine are among the finest drivers ever to enjoy power steering.
And so it is for everyone else that we have prepared this brief guide to driving in winter.
1.) Driving in winter takes time.
Wherever you're going in winter, make sure you give yourself more time to get there. In fact, that goes for the actual driving part too -- is there a red light up ahead? Plan to spend much more time stopping than you would were the road clear. Because if there's any ice, you might not have time to stop at all, and nothing ruins a winter day faster than a fender bender. Making a turn and there's some snow or ice in the intersection? The turn will take longer to take. Just remember to take it slower, and allow yourself more time to get to your destination. Above all, and this may apply to life in Montana in a general way as well, avoid being in a hurry.
2.) Don't drive on worn-out tires.
Depending on where you live and how far you have to drive, you may not need chains or dedicated winter tires for your rig. But you do need tires that aren't bald. If you don't have any traction on icy roads, you're heading for trouble down the trail. And if you do have to make a lot of long drives this winter, live in an inaccessible area, or have your own private roads, you might want to think about investing in those snow tires or chains after all.
3.) Don't use cruise control.
Cruise control makes this easier, sure. But that's not always a good thing. If you're on the interstate, you can't be sure that it's really clear of ice or if there's black ice. And if there's black ice and you're driving with cruise control on, you might not be able to tell that you've lost traction with the road until it's too late. It's better to have worn-out ankles than to over-rely on cruise control. In winter, reaction time is everything.
4.) Don't drive with partially defrosted windows.
Everybody's been there - you're in a hurry, the defrost and heat are on blast, and the windshield is almost clear. You start to drive away, thinking "it's ok, I'll just peer out of the part of the windshield without frost!" Bad idea. When you drive with part of your front or rear windshield still covered in ice, your visibility is greatly reduced. And, again, reaction time and environmental awareness are paramount.
5.) Keep an emergency kit in the car.
If you're traveling anywhere farther than the grocery store (and in some parts of Montana even that can be a long drive), you need to have a well-stocked winter emergency kit in your car. It should contain a flashlight, a blanket, batteries, road flares, jumper cables, a spare tire, tools, and maybe something densely caloric in case you end up stranded somewhere that takes a while to get to reach.
6.) Winterize your car.
Make sure you keep your tank at least half full in the winter, and add Heet or an equivalent product to your tank if the temperature is going to be especially low. If you're taking a long drive, get your fluids topped off and, if it's been a while, get an oil change. And it goes without saying that if your brakes could use some attention, get them done before you head out. Nice new brake pads could be the difference between an uneventful drive and a crunched up hood.
7.) Get off your phone!
This always applies, but in a season when alertness is more important than any other, it bears repeating: there is no text, email, or phone call so important it can't be attended to once you get a chance to pull over.
8.) Keep Your Tires Inflated
Tire pressure fluctuates with the temperature, and nothing fluctuates more than the temperature in Montana. So be sure your tires have enough pressure for winter conditions.
Follow all of these rules and you just might be as good at driving as the Distinctly Montana editorial staff.