Students offered road safety tips as school starts

By Alastair Baker
Thursday, August 23, 2018
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Red Lodge High School students listen to MDT snowplow driver Tom Williams about road safety.

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Photos by Alastair Baker

The students got to sit in the snowplow cab and see the view the driver has.

A group of Red Lodge High School students attended a class in road safety put on by Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) Snow Plow Division and the Red Lodge Police Department. Presenting a series of traffic scenarios were police officer Scott Cope and MDT personnel Tom Williams and Dan McJunkin.

The main message to the students was to avoid being distracted and remain focused while driving because there are many obstacles out there from cell phones, texting, extreme weather, drugs, drinking, jay walkers, micro napping, wildlife and ranch animals as well as even tourists.

Williams pointed out an emerging and “dangerous trend” by drivers of late: getting too close to snowplows and attempting to pass them.

“The only time you should pass one is if it has pulled over to let you pass,” said Williams.

Not only is visibility a factor when driving behind a snowplow, there is also the possibility of hitting black ice when passing.

“And finger drifts will knock your vehicle off its course,” he said.

“Even we can’t see what is up ahead,” said McJunkin. ‘”We hit a finger drift and it wipes us out and it will wipe you out.”

“When they are working, do not pass,” reiterated Cope. “Don’t get tangled up with the plow because you will lose. The reason we are here is to keep you safe. You can be late for the doctor or Costco or the movies. You get to do that again but if you get killed, we’re done. You get stuck behind a snowplow traveling at 40 instead of 60, that’s 20 minutes out of your hour. Big deal. Give them a cushion, a bubble for them to work in.”

As for other means to maintain driver safety the students were told to look for troublesome scenarios.

“If you see a line of cars stacked up, pull over,” said Cope. “There is always one who has to pass and if something happens to them, you will get mixed up in it.”

“There is always someone who isn’t concentrating,” said Williams. “If one makes a mistake, everyone else comes to the party with him.”

On colliding with animals, the students were advised that if “impact is inevitable, to let up on the brakes” as this will lift up the front of the car and square up with the animal especially if it is a taller animal like a moose, horse or a cow, all of which can’t be seen well at night. Braking while hitting the animal will lower the front end of the vehicle and cause the animal to roll on to it and possibly into the windscreen and driving compartment.

The advice carried through to small animals, to hit rather than swerve to avoid. “Don’t roll into a ditch for an animal,” said Cope.

As for drinking and driving, Cope said it was up to their generation to say “it isn’t a good thing” and for it to carry the same “social stigma” as smoking to stop it.

“It tears apart your life and you could end up killing your friends,” said Cope.

“Make sure you are wearing your seat belts,” said Cope. “A lot of older folks they don’t think seatbelts work. In a roll over accident people not wearing seatbelts get pitched out and get rolled on by the car.”

One final tip covered the right of way rule at unmarked junctions.

“The right of way, he’s on my right, it’s his right of way,” explained Cope.

There is still a need to be prudent though and take precautions as to the other driver’s actions.

“I don’t want to see you guys get hurt and I definitely don’t want to see you get killed and I don’t want you to lose friends,” said Cope. “The best thing about a car crash is getting out and saying ‘that’ll be expensive’ but you’re fine.”