While this hasn't been much of a winter for snow and cold, it HAS been rough for dealing with fog across much of Montana. The combination of inversions, and occasional moisture is perfect for creating fog and low clouds that are often just as hazardous as driving in a blizzard.

Unfortunately, a lot of Montana drivers aren't realizing how important headlights are for not just your visibility, but making sure other cars, as well as pedestrians and bike riders, see you coming.

On a recent foggy day south of Missoula, by my count, far less than half the drivers had their lights on, roughly just 3 or 4 drivers out of 10, even when visibility was down to less than 100 yards. That's not only dangerous, it could be illegal.

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What are Montana's headlight laws?

Montana state law is pretty standard with other states, requiring headlights to be used from one-half hour after sunset until one-half hour before sunrise the following morning.

The "reduced visibility" rules are more general but still pretty easy to follow.

The law states headlights are REQUIRED when there is insufficient light or "unfavorable atmospheric conditions". That involves the entire recipe of Montana driving conditions, including fog, snow, and rain.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo

But when?

The law says those adverse conditions are when other cars on the highway, or people on the side of the road, aren't discernible at a distance of just 500 feet ahead.

Be "light aware"

I think the major problem is that people aren't that familiar with their vehicle lights. Daytime "running lights" often aren't sufficient when the visibility drops. And fog lights might help you see, but they aren't designed to help others see you. So walk around your car, acquaint yourself with what settings will help, and meet the law.

And remember, motorcycles are required to have headlights on at all times in Montana unless it's defined as a "collectors' item". And then it can't be operated during inclement conditions.

Montana's Top 10 Record-Setting Wild Weather Events

Montana is named Big Sky Country for several reasons, not only grandiose Sunsets but impressive weather events as well! Ask any Montana resident who has scoffed at the idea of tossing a blanket or snow shovel in the trunk of the car ” just in case”. Here is a list of Montana's Top 10 Record-Setting Wild Weather Events

Gallery Credit: Brian Lee

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