The big winter storms are hitting much of the northern United States early this year, and snow and ice always bring unique challenges to drivers of any age. But it can be particularly dangerous for teenage drivers who haven’t been driving long enough to always know how to be safe on clean, dry roads, much less the mix of weather found in these colder months.
Anyone who has a teenager who has just started driving, or knows one, should be aware of these tips to help them drive safe this winter.
Take Your Teen’s Car In For A Check-Up
First and foremost, make sure the vehicle you are giving your teenager to drive is safe. Take the car in for a check-up to make sure all systems are functioning properly. Makes sure parts such as hoses, plugs, belts and pumps—all things that can wear out over time—are in good condition. Check the battery to make sure it can hold a charge, even when the temperature drops. Make sure the fluids are topped off, and are correct for the winter months; depending on how cold it gets in your area, you will need coolants, windshield wiper fluids and oils that won’t freeze. Make sure the windshield wipers are in good condition and ready to take on the heavy snow and sharp ice that will accumulate. Make sure the pressure in the tires is correct—air inflates and deflates as the temperatures change, so you will want to make sure the tires are inflated properly at all times. And finally, do a test of all the defrosters to make sure they are working properly. By giving your teenager a car you know is ready to tackle any weather it encounters, you are setting them up for safety.
Practice Makes Perfect, Or At Least Safer
Seriously, practice. Don’t just hand the keys over to your teenage driver no matter what weather conditions are out there. The first time they have their license and snow falls is the perfect time to take them out for another driving lesson. Just like when you first taught them to drive, find an empty area, such as a parking lot, and set a course that allows them to feel how the car handles different with snow and ice on the ground. In this safe, controlled environment, let them try a bit of speed as they take a corner so they can feel how much more the vehicle will slide and lose traction in these conditions. Make sure they actually experience the differences, rather than just give them a lecture that will likely be forgotten as soon as they get behind the wheel.
Talk To Them And Make Sure They’re Listening
Go over some of the basics with your teenager again. Don’t just spout rules at them though. Take the time to explain why they are more important in wet, snowy, icy weather than at any other time (although they should be obeying them all the time!). Make sure they understand things such as a safe follow distance is imperative in winter weather, as traction—for them or others around them—could be lost at any time. They need to space to ensure they can safely react or stop if an incident occurs. And make sure they understand that there will be more incidents in these months that in the summer, when the roads are not nearly as slick. Other safety tips you will want to share include braking more slowly so the tires don’t lock up and cause a skid, and don’t cut anyone off, but especially large trucks, who won’t be able to stop as fast on slick roads.
Make Sure They Keep It Clean
Teach them how to properly clean the snow and ice from their vehicle. They have likely seen Internet pictures of cars driving around with huge chunks of ice on their roofs and thought they were funny. However, teach your teenagers how dangerous it can be if that snow or ice starts to slide. It might take time to get all the snow off the car, but this is a crucial tip for ensuring they are safe for both themselves and the other cars around them. Make sure they know how to properly scrape ice from the windshield – and not just a small viewing hole, but a large enough area to give them full view of the road—that they know to clean all their lights and that they have gotten as much loose snow as possible off the vehicle before they start to drive. Also, they will want to make sure the tailpipe is clear before they turn the car on to avoid pumping carbon monoxide into the vehicle. This applies to both clearing it of falling snow, and making sure that when they back out, they have enough clearance from drifts to prevent snow from being jammed in.
Fill It Up And Keep It Full
Finally, make sure they have a full gas tank, and understand that they can’t let the tank run to empty this time of year. Gasoline is heavy, and that extra weight will help keep the car more firmly planted on the road. Other supplies you might want to consider giving them to keep in the car at all times during the winter is a bag of sand or salt they can use to help them gain traction in an icy parking lot; and an emergency winter kit that includes a flare, emergency blanket, water bottle, etc., so if the worst happens, you know they can stay warm and hydrated. It’s something you hope they never have to use, but it will give you, and them, peace of mind knowing it’s there for the “just in case” moments.