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Caution urged on winter roads

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LAKE COUNTY ­— As new arrivals continue to move into Big Sky country from warmer climates, officials remind residents to be safe behind the wheel this winter. Lake County Sheriff Don Bell commented on some common issues he sees on the road.

“The biggest thing I see is that people are in a hurry. When the roads are dry that’s probably okay, but in snow they need to leave earlier and get all the snow off their vehicles,” Bell commented. Getting up earlier and allowing ample time to get to a destination can prevent a lot of safety risks on icy roads. Cleaning off the hood of a car as well as the windows and lights can prevent snow from flying onto the windshield and refreezing during a drive.

Drivers are also encouraged to pay attention to road conditions and visibility. Ice is often hard to see, so going slow and keeping enough space between other cars, as well as approaching turns and intersections with caution, does a lot to prevent collisions. The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) reminds drivers to expect ice on bridges and in shady spots on any road.

Another key factor Bell addressed was keeping winter survival gear in cars. Blankets, extra winter wear, and water are vital. If a car ends up off the road and the driver needs to shelter in their vehicle, these items can help them stay warm and comfortable until help arrives. Winter tires with good tread and a shovel can help a driver get themselves out of off-road situations as well.

MDT also reminds drivers to use caution around snowplows. Maintain a safe distance in case sand or de-icer is being spread behind the plow. Never attempt to pass a plow during a whiteout, and remember they move slower than highway speeds. Bell advised that if drivers can wait to get on the highway until after 9 a.m., when many plows have run their routes and the roads have been sanded, they should do so.“Slow down, be conscious of the conditions of the road, make sure your vehicle is winter ready,” Bell said in summary.

(See related MDT winter driving checklist to below.)

Montana Department of Transportation Winter Driving Checklist

1. Allow extra time to get to your destination.

2. Clean off your car. Keep windows, mirrors and lights clear of snow and ice.

3. Turn off cruise control.

4. Always buckle up.

5. Slow down in poor visibility conditions.

6. Maintain a safe distance behind other vehicles.

7. Expect ice on bridges and in shady spots.

8. Don’t pass snowplows unless it’s absolutely necessary.

9. Prepare your vehicle for winter driving at the start of the season.

10. Check to be sure all four tires are in good condition.

11. Don’t wait until the last minute to get snow tires mounted.

12. Keep an emergency travel kit in your car.

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