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Learning To Drive The Montana Way

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR)

I have lived in Montana for 20 years. I’ve never gotten a traffic ticket; never had an accident. Knock on wood. I’ve also never been to Yellowstone Park, but that’s another story. This is the time of year I always dread because the students are back in school and in about 40 days or less snow will be flying.

Don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against the students. They are a major economic boon to our city and county. But, for some, this will be the first time they will drive on snow and ice. Most MSU students are from somewhere in Montana and are no strangers to snow and ice on streets and highways. It’s that 1-2% of “NASCAR wanna-be geniuses” from Arizona or California that turn me into a white-knuckle driver between October and December. It usually takes until January, along with several close calls, before they finally get it.  Snow and ice are SLICK.

Thankfully these folks are somewhat easy to spot. They will have hit the MSU bookstore or Wal-Mart and loaded up with anything that has “Montana State” or “MSU” written on it. The rear window is view challenged due to the over abundance of stickers and sayings. Tip: Grizzlies can’t do that to themselves. The “MSU” gas cap cover is always a dead giveaway.

This will be the first full winter with the roundabout at 11th and College. I’m thinking about bleachers, and charging admission, after the first good snowstorm. It should be fascinating entertainment watching the unintentional “Tokyo Drifts” that are sure to occur as the laws of physics administer lessons not listed in the MSU curriculum. The city is really missing a major revenue stream here. Forget those red light cameras of people running red lights. I think pictures of drivers, with expressions of shear, mind-numbing terror as they slide into another vehicle, would bring top dollar on eBay.

During the next few months there are times and locations of which to be wary. Drive time in the morning to the university. Students who are late for class are like a “Scud Missile.” No one is quite sure where it might land. Try not to be between the university and the Molly Brown between 4 and 6 PM. Even houses and trees are not safe.

The city is not helping. They’ve made 8th street nice and flat and smooth. It’s like a ten block “Slip N Slide.” The natural speed bumps and speed retarding potholes have been removed. Only the 15 mph through the school zone might give you a chance to get away unscathed. Rule of thumb — avoid 8th street except for the month of July.

College is not the only problem. High School juniors are poised and ready to take to the streets and find out just exactly what Dad’s four-wheeler will really do. Think of them as “driving hormones” out of control. Add texting and you have a demolition derby waiting to happen.

I guess short of locking yourself indoors till next summer, the best I can give you during the critical driving time is the old line from “Hill Street Blues.” Each episode’s morning briefing ended with, “Let’s be careful out there.”

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