At Paoli Law Firm we’re well aware of the hazards of all types of driving, especially highway driving. Couple that with severe weather conditions, and winter driving can make the most joyous season the most tragic. We’ve represented many individuals and families who have experienced these severe crashes. From passenger vehicle crashes and rollovers to eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer fatalities, we’ve learned of many hazards on the road and valuable tips to help stay safe.

Winter Driving

Montana has one of the highest highway fatality rates in the nation. All too often people are injured, sometimes fatally, by someone else’s negligent driving. The Montana Highway Patrol’s 2012 annual report includes alarming statistics:

  • There were 20,295 crashes reported (one crash every 26 minutes).
  • There were 205 fatalities in 192 fatal crashes (one fatality every 43 hours).
  • There were 7,470 injuries in 5,426 injury crashes (one injury every 70 minutes).
  • The top five contributing causes of crashes (from highest to lowest) were inattentive driving, driving too fast for conditions, failing to yield right of way, driving erratically, recklessly, or negligently, and following too closely.

Many of these 2012 crashes were close to home:

  • There were 1,560 crashes investigated and 24 MHP Traffic Fatalities in District I (Sanders, Mineral, Missoula & Ravalli Counties).
  • There were 202 crashes in Mineral County, resulting in 3 fatalities and 54 injuries.
  • There were 2,054 crashes in Missoula County, resulting in 7 fatalities and 571 injuries.
  • There were 168 crashes in Sanders County, resulting in 6 fatalities and 58 injuries.
  • There were 578 crashes in Ravalli County, resulting in 5 fatalities and 171 injuries.
  • There were 2,036 crashes in Cascade County, resulting in 7 fatalities and 468 injuries.

Although severe weather and road conditions can happen during any month of the year in Montana, drivers face additional risks and responsibilities while driving in winter weather. The Montana Highway Patrol reports that more crashes occurred between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. than any other hours of the day, more on Thursdays than any other day of the week, and more in December than any other month of the year.

Big Rig Crashes

The most dangerous vehicles on the road due to sheer weight and size are semi-truck – “big rigs.” Add to this the incentives truck drivers have to maximize miles, and a recipe for complete disaster lurks around every 18-wheeler.

Be Prepared, Alert & Cautious

There are several ways to be prepared, alert and cautious in an effort to prevent a collision and keep safe.

Be Prepared

  • Make sure your vehicle’s maintenance is current and appropriate. This includes the cooling system, heater, defroster & wipers, fuel system, oil level, battery & ignition system, lights, exhaust system, tires, and brakes.
  • Clean off your car so windows, mirrors and lights are clear of snow and ice.
  • Check your route and the road conditions before you travel. You can do this online at, by calling 511 or 1-800-226-7623, or by listening to your local radio stations.
  • Always buckle up.
  • Keep an emergency travel kit in your car.

Be Alert

  • Adjust your speed for the visibility and conditions.
  • Maintain a safe distance behind other vehicles.
  • Make sure you can see and be seen.
  • Avoid using your cell phone and texting while driving.
  • Pay attention!

Be Cautious

Give yourself plenty of time to arrive to your destination safely and on time.

  • Slow down; anticipate lane changes, turns, curves and braking much farther in advance; and concentrate on making smooth precise movements.
  • Never use cruise control when road conditions are slippery.
  • Watch for ice on bridges, shady spots, and at the bottom of hills.

For more information please visit the Montana Department of Transportation’s website at