November 20, 2011

How to drive in Montana during the winter

Despite my many attempts to coax summer back into Lake County by wearing shorts and sandals to work, the veil of old man winter has apparently come to stay. Thanks to the weather we’ve been struck with for the past few days, the streets have turned into winter wonderlands.

Now being from the state of Washington, it feels like the biggest running gag is the apparent lack of winter driving skills by Seattle drivers. When there’s just a skiff of snow… or heavy rain, traffic becomes more snarled and bogged down than the Seahawks’ offense. The cause of the problem? Drivers who rarely see snow react like aliens have landed.

Luckily, we all live in a state (Montana) where the general winter weather driving experience is much more common and cars aren’t flying off the road like a bad sequel to “Transformers.” You won’t see too many YouTube clips of a panicking driver in a Geo Metro crashing into 40 parked cars like in Seattle because (a) nobody owns a Geo Metro in the state of Montana, and (b) the only time people around here seem to panic is when the fire department or library asks for a little money to keep their serves going.

However, I did see a car fishtailing around the corner last Friday and nearing colliding into some parked cars, and upon closer inspection, that person was texting and appeared completely oblivious that their vehicle was halfway into my lane.

So while I understand everyone probably has this winter thing completely under control and someone will probably have to pull me from a ditch this winter, I’d figure I still throw out a few driving tips.

1. You don’t get bonus points for being Sonic The Hedgehog on wheels
Let me be the wise Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid” and pass along a driving secret known for ages among people with dentless cars… drive slower with it snows. Even if you have four-wheel drive, that doesn’t help you stop any sooner. Sorry to break it to all you NASCAR fans but Highway 93 isn’t going to be a 70 MPH zone for months to come.

2. Tailgating should be done only at Griz games
Unless you want recreate a hockey game and check another driver into the boards, you should give yourself plenty of space from other cars. If the weather is bad and the roads are slick, there’s still a really good chance you’ll be sliding around. That’s nothing to be worried about if you keep and a calm head unless you tailing somebody like you’re in the next “Fast and Furious” movie. Then you just better hope you have good liability insurance.

3. Don’t freak. That’s just embarrassing.
Again, if you slip and slide a bit, don’t slam on the brakes and cause things to get work. If you followed the other two steps you won’t be in serious trouble. Locking up your wheels and therefore all your control will only make things worse. Also keep distractions like cell phones out of your hand, since you’ll need to be aware of potential hazards on the roadway a lot sooner than in normal driving conditions.

4. Give yourself some time
Give yourself more than the regular allotted time when going somewhere, otherwise you’ll feel the need to rush and the resulting accident might make you even more late.

So there you have it! Have a great Holiday season and remember… drive safe! The roads around here are some of the most scenic but also treacherous. Better to get somewhere and have it take longer than normal than the alternative. Also make sure you pack blankets, extra water and food and other important roadside items in case you find yourself stranded.

Because after all… we’re all a little tougher than those Seattle drivers.

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