Surviving Extreme Winter Weather

How to stay safe when driving in Montana


Snow and ice in the student parking lot at Big Sky

Sunlight glimmers off the snow, the world has turned white. Everything seems brighter, purer, even calmer. But this can be a dangerous time of year when driving in a place like Montana.
A majority of injuries that occur during the winter season result from car accidents. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, 24% of vehicle crashes are weather related.
Freshman Devin Hureaux experienced a bit of a scare when he ran into an icy patch of road while out for a drive with his family. “It was dark, icy and raining. We were going about 25 miles per hour on a dirt road up Nine Mile when we hit a patch of ice on a turn and slid into a ditch,” he says. “We tried to push the car out but ended up having to call some friends to come and pull us out.”
Hureaux isn’t the only one that knows the dangers of icy roads, Sophomore Ellie Michels has also been through a frightening occurrence while driving on Butler Creek Road in January of this year. She says the conditions contributed but admits that she should have slowed down.
Sliding is not the only danger of driving in the winter. Another risk is snow and ice flying from cars. This can cause personal and property damage.
Also, not clearing ice and frost from windows can significantly reduce visibility. Did you know, in the state of Montana it is actually illegal not to clear snow, ice, and frost from cars for precisely these reasons? You can be fined $75 just for not having cleared your car, and if flying snow and ice cause damage, you could end up paying up to $1,250.
This is easily preventable. All you have to do to ensure you won’t be fined is clear off your car of snow and ice, and scrape your windows before you leave to go anywhere.

Tips to Stay Safe

Hureaux gave a bit of advice on what not to do if you begin to drift. “When sliding don’t hit the brakes or make sharp turns.” He believes the big thing he did to cause the incident was overcorrect after he started sliding.
Michels says that people need to be cautious when driving in rough conditions. “When the roads are bad just go way slower in the first place, then you don’t have to worry about it.
Local EMT John Petroff also gave advice on what to do to prevent getting into a snow and ice related accident yourself. “Mostly slow down your driving, be cautious when it starts to get slippery.”
Not only did Petroff give advice for driving safely, he gave a small tip for the winter season in general. “Make sure you’re dressing for the weather.”
This is important as well because you never know what kind of situation you could end up in and there are many risks that stem from the cold temperatures to go along with the dangers of snow and ice, for example frostbite and hypothermia are caused by temperature.

What the Pros Do
Petroff knows what it is like when a crash does occur. He describes what it is like when he first arrives on the scene of an accident, “Usually it’s pretty chaotic. There are bystanders that showed up there that are trying to give you info,” he says.
He also knows that when there is a crash the people involved as well as bystanders can become very nervous with the tense environment. “Depending on how bad the accident is, it will determine the level of anxiety people are at. If it’s a bad accident their anxiety is usually pretty high and it can get pretty crazy. We show up and just have to calm people down a little bit.” says Petroff
It would only make a situation where an accident did occur worse if emergency teams couldn’t make it on the scene in time to help. To ensure their safe arrival on the scene of an accident, emergency teams run their sirens and lights, chain their engines and they also will slow down significantly when the roads are icy and make sure that intersections are clear when going through them. “Our biggest thing is making sure we know we’re part of the solution and not to become part of the problem,” says Petroff.
Petroff alone reports to around two dozen snow and ice related accidents every year. He also says Missoula EMTs report to around 200 snow and ice related accidents collectively. This is out of the 9500 calls they respond to each year.
So when you’re getting ready to head out into the magical winter wonderland that is Montana every winter season, just remember to be cautious. Dress warm, clear your vehicle of snow, ice and frost, and, last but most definitely not least, drive slowly and carefully. By doing these things, you can stay safe and not only survive but enjoy your Montana winters.