Montana experiences some of the harshest winter weather in all of the United States, and Billings residents are generally familiar with how to navigate the harsh winter roads in Montana. However, newcomers to the state, visitors, and travelers passing through Montana should know what to expect from winter driving in Montana.

Basic Winter Vehicle Maintenance

It is wise to have your vehicle checked by a mechanic before the cold weather hits. Some preventative maintenance can go a long way toward preventing winter breakdowns and accidents. Have your mechanic check your vehicle’s brakes, tires, fluid levels, and climate control systems. You do not want to find yourself stuck in slow-moving winter traffic without adequate heat in your vehicle. Some drivers may also want to invest in specialized snow tires or tire chains.

Are Chains and Winter Tires Necessary in Montana?

Montana has variable road conditions throughout the state, and some drivers may need snow tires more than others. Some heavy-duty vehicles come equipped with tires that can handle snow and ice with minimal issue, but other vehicles may require special snow tires for the winter months. Snow tires generally include tires studded with metal pegs that allow for more traction on snow and ice. Drivers who do not wish to purchase a whole set of snow tires can instead opt for tire chains that fit around their tires and offer similar additional traction. Drivers should consult the Montana Department of Transportation’s guidelines for snow tires and chains before purchasing.

Other Winter Vehicle Tips

Physically preparing your vehicle for a Montana winter is just one part of avoiding winter accidents. Drivers should also know some basic safety tips for avoiding accidents and injuries this winter:

  • Allow extra time to reach destinations. It may be annoying to leave earlier for work in the morning, but doing so minimizes the need to rush and encourages safer driving.
  • Clean your vehicle off before driving. Completely remove all snow and ice from your vehicle, including from on top of the roof and from the windows. Driving with obstructed windows is extremely dangerous, and driving with a load of snow on top of your vehicle is also dangerous to other drivers; dislodged chunks of snow could startle a driver behind you and cause an accident.
  • Do not use cruise control. A vehicle’s cruise control settings may offer comfort on the highway during long trips, but it is not advisable to use these settings during the winter. Cruise control sets your vehicle to a certain speed and maintains that speed automatically, but during the winter it may be necessary to adjust your speed manually without warning to account for changing road conditions.
  • Be careful during low visibility. Heavy snowfall or driving during dark winter nights is dangerous; always ensure your vehicle’s lights are in working order and drive slower than usual during periods of poor visibility.
  • Do not pass snow plows unless absolutely necessary. Snow plows may travel slower than other vehicles, but they generally have less visibility than other vehicles and passing one at the wrong time can easily cause an accident.
  • Leave adequate space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. A general rule of thumb is to allow one car length between your vehicle and the one in front of you for every 10mph. For example, at 40mph you would ideally want four car lengths of space between vehicles. During the winter you should allow even more room; snow and ice on the road can cause your vehicle to require more braking distance than usual.

These are just a few tips to stay safer on Montana roads this winter. Proper preparations, keeping an emergency kit in your vehicle, and vigilance on the roads are some of the best ways to prevent accidents and injuries during harsh Montana winter weather.