Learning to drive is an important and exciting rite of passage for every teenager. For parents of teens, however, the excitement is tempered by the knowledge that their child will now be exposed to all the hazards of the highway. Of course, these driving dangers are greatly compounded once winter weather sets in, as it soon will in Northwest Ohio. Driving in winter conditions can be a harrowing experience for the most seasoned driver, let alone for a young person taking to the roads for the first time. The following tips will help keep your teen driver safe when faced with slick or snowy driving conditions:
#1 Make sure all systems are “go”
First, it’s vital to ensure that the vehicle your teen will be driving is properly maintained and prepared for winter driving conditions. Vehicle batteries can really take a beating in cold weather, so be sure to have the battery tested at the outset of the winter season to verify that it’s in good condition. For better traction, consider putting winter tires on the vehicle. Compared to all-season tires, winter tires can boost traction by as much as 50 percent. It’s also a good idea to install winter windshield wiper blades on the vehicle to provide the best possible visibility in snowy conditions. Furthermore, make sure the vehicle’s brakes, heater/defroster, windshield wipers, belts, hoses, and radiator are in good condition and functioning properly and that all of the lights and signals are working.
#2 Pack a winter survival kit
You pray it never happens, but any driver can end up stuck in a ditch or snow bank waiting for help to arrive. The odds of this occurring are even greater when the driver in question has little if any winter-driving experience under his or her belt. So, it’s best for your teen (or any driver, for that matter) to be prepared by keeping a winter survival kit in the vehicle at all times. A well-stocked kit would include a warm blanket or sleeping bag, cold-weather clothing (hat, boots, gloves, etc.), an ice scraper, jumper cables, a flashlight with extra batteries, tow chains or straps, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter for traction, a cell phone charger, snacks, water, a first-aid kit, and road flares.
#3 Drive only if necessary
Parents, before allowing a teen driver to get behind the wheel in severe winter weather, ask yourself, “Is this trip really necessary?” Teens do need to acquire winter-driving skills, but the best time for learning is not when driving conditions are seriously compromised, for example when the roads are extremely slick during or following an ice storm or when snow is blowing and drifting and visibility is even further reduced by darkness. Let commonsense be your guide.
Ideally, teens should be exposed to winter driving gradually and under controlled conditions to the extent possible. One good approach is to take your teen driver to an empty parking lot, so he or she can get a feel for winter driving without putting themselves or other drivers in danger.
#4 Clear the car completely
Make sure your teen understands that when snow accumulates on a vehicle, it’s important to clean it off completely. Drivers often make the mistake of clearing the windows and signals but leaving snow on the roof, hood, and trunk. Snow left in these areas can blow or avalanche suddenly onto the windshield, obscuring the driver’s vision, or blow onto another driver’s windshield with the same result.
#5 Know the winter-driving danger zones
An inexperienced teen driver may assume that just because one section of road isn’t slippery that the same conditions will prevail throughout their journey. Alert them to the fact that some areas are prone to icing more quickly than others—e.g., bridges and shady areas—and that road conditions can change dramatically, even over relatively short distances. For instance, while the highway may be relatively clear, allowing for normal-speed travel, the on- and off-ramps may be icy or snow-covered. Also, they should be advised that extra caution must be exercised when approaching intersections or in any situation in which it’s necessary to bring the vehicle to a complete stop to avoid colliding with other vehicles or structures. It’s wise to check your traction well in advance of the intersection to ensure that you can stop in time.
#6 Slow down and space out
Teens should also be taught the importance of adjusting their speed and following distance according to road conditions. Remember, the posted speed limit is a maximum and applies only when driving conditions are good. Anytime conditions are compromised by snow, ice, slush, or rain, it’s necessary to drive slower than the posted limit and to brake and accelerate gradually. With respect to vehicle spacing, it’s recommended to at least double your normal safe following distance when roads are slick. Also, be sure to keep your eyes on the road further ahead, not just on the vehicle in front of you. If you see brake lights off in the distance, be ready to stop. To reduce the likelihood of getting rear-ended by the driver behind you, it’s wise to signal turns earlier than you would when driving under normal conditions.
#7 Give ‘em a brake lesson
When sliding on ice or snow, the first reaction of an inexperienced teen driver is to slam on the brakes. But this reaction, while natural, can have potentially disastrous results. Teach your teen that hard braking on ice will lock up the brakes and can cause the car to enter an uncontrolled skid. Instead of stomping on the brake pedal, keep the heel of your foot on the floor and apply firm, steady pressure with the ball of your foot. Again, it’s a good idea to practice this technique in an empty parking lot.