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Winter Driving Tips

When roads get icy, drivers should take it easy. (Photo courtesy of Katie Brady/Flicker)

Every Missoulian knows the weather here can change in a Montana minute. That could mean dangerous driving conditions for holiday travelers, and with lots of cars on the road this time of year, there is even more risk of an accident.


When it comes to driving on snowy roads, slow and steady wins the race. Brush up on winter driving protocol by reviewing the following guidelines:


1. If you can, wait for plows and sanding trucks to hit the road before you do.


2. Slow down. This isn’t the time to race your cousin Gabe to Grandma’s house. Your family will forgive you if you don’t make it in time for pre-dinner holiday cocktails.


3. Give yourself space to stop. It takes much longer to stop on icy roads, so leave about three times more distance than usual between yourself and the vehicle in front of you.


4. Use low gears to avoid slipping, especially when traveling downhill.


5. Remember, having four-wheel or all-wheel drive does not make you immune to bad road conditions. It’s your job — not your vehicle’s — to exercise good judgment and keep your passengers and yourself safe.


If you end up stuck in the snow, don’t panic. Remain calm and remember these tips:


1. Spinning your wheels will only dig you in deeper, so resist the urge to keep slamming the gas pedal.


2. Turn your wheels from side to side to nudge snow out of the way. If necessary, get out and try to clear snow away from your tires. (It’s a good idea to keep a small shovel in your car for this sort of thing.)


3. Use sand, gravel, dirt, salt, kitty litter or anything else that is immediately available to increase traction around your wheels. It’s not a bad idea to keep a bag of something gritty in your trunk, just in case.


4. Tap the gas lightly to ease your way out of the snow.


5. If you can’t get out, call for help, remain inside your vehicle and put on your hazard lights. Don’t set out on foot to find help unless you’re familiar with the area and know how far you have to go.


Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.


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