As I’m sitting here writing this post, sleet is hitting my window and instantly sticking to the sidewalks and roads. The below freezing temperatures and slippery conditions are not ideal driving conditions but serve as a teachable moment to teach teens to be safe winter drivers.
Teens love the independence of driving but it can be nerve wracking sitting on the passenger side of the car, watching them behind the wheel. Every minute on the road builds confidence but driving in dry sunny conditions differs from inclement weather.
As parents, it’s our job to teach teens to be safe winter drivers. But it’s one thing to talk to them about the what-ifs and another for them to experience road conditions firsthand.
How We Can Teach Teens to Be Safe Winter Drivers
Since winter isn’t over (thanks groundhog!), now is the perfect time to teach teens to be safe winter drivers. Lessons about car safety features and winter maintenance are just as important as having newly permitted and licensed drivers drive in snow, sleet, and slippery conditions.
If you’re not sure how to have this conversation because winter driving makes you a bit nervous, Tom Kretschmann, Product Technology Education Planner for Toyota Motor North America, recently shared some tips. As someone who spent 9 years in upstate New York and is familiar with New England road conditions, Tom was the perfect person to ask for advice about teaching teens to be safe on the roads in winter. Here’s his advice along with lessons I’ve learned while preparing my oldest for whatever weather she might encounter on the road ahead.
Educate Teens About Car Features
Driver’s education teaches teens the rules of the road before the get behind the wheel. As they prepare to hit the road, make sure they understand the features of your family’s cars.
In our house, we have two cars- an all-wheel drive (AWD) station wagon and a hybrid sedan. We always reach for the keys of our AWD vehicle in slippery, snowy conditions because we want peace of mind that the car will behave the way we expect it to.
AWD vehicles, such as the RAV4 Prime XSE Premium, provide power to all wheels, instead of the front or rear two wheels. In Toyota models, AWD helps the car do what you’re telling it to. It helps you get going and keeps you going by providing additional traction whether you’re accelerating from a stop or turning while climbing hills. It provides confidence when driving in slippery or snowy conditions but also in perfect conditions.
Teach Teens About the Importance of Regular Maintenance
A car won’t perform well if it isn’t taken care of so teach teens the importance of regular maintenance. Regular vehicle checks help ensure:
- Your tires are in good shape. Worn, or bald tires, won’t provide necessary traction even if your car has AWD.
- The car battery is in good condition. Tom says batteries don’t work as well when it’s cold so you’re more likely to get stranded in the cold if your battery fails.
- Wiper blades are replaced regularly. Regular use causes wear and tear that can make wiper blades deteriorate. Replacing them every 6-12 months prevents them from ever getting to the point of becoming brittle and prone to cracks and tears.
- Windshield fluid is full. Windshield wiper fluid keeps your windshield clean and free of dirt and grime. It’s especially important when driving in the winter when salt residue from treated roads stick to your windshield and reduce visibility. Windshield fluid is essential for safe driving.
Tell Them to Go Easy on Power and Brakes
One important lesson to teach teens to be safe winter drivers is to go easy on the power and brakes. Tom says, “When you walk on snow and ice, you walk differently. The same is true on cars, ease into power and brakes.”
He advises parents to teach teens to “drive like you have raw eggs under your feet.” Smooth throttle inputs help maintain traction and can get you through bad conditions.
Prepare Teens to Anticipate the Unexpected
As a parent of a new teen driver, I encourage my daughter to anticipate the unexpected when driving. She may have control over her vehicle but so many times other drivers don’t, especially in winter weather. Tom suggests parents should teach their kids to:
- Assume other drivers don’t have the traction you do. Because of this, he says it’s important to maintain more distance between cars. Your teen may ease into power and brakes but other drivers may not so having more space between cars is critical in preventing accidents.
- Give yourself more time to get places. When the roads are slippery, drivers should slow down. Rushing is a recipe for disaster in bad conditions.
- Know your area and different routes because unexpected traffic problems, wrecks, closures, and stopped traffic are possibilities in any weather. If your teen is unsure of the area where they’re driving, make sure they know they should pull over before operating their vehicle’s navigation or phone to get them to where they need to be.
It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of:
- Keeping a full gas tank and making sure your plug-in hybrid is charged before you set out. With unknown weather and traffic conditions as a possibility, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of driving with a full tank of gas and a fully charged hybrid to avoid running out of gas mid-trip.
- Traveling with snacks and water. Since you never know when it might take longer to get somewhere, it’s always a good idea to travel with snacks and water so your teen stays hydrated and won’t arrive at their destination hangry. Sliced apples and string cheese are my go-to snacks when in the car. I also keep a Ziploc bag with a granola bar and some chocolate in my purse just in case! Protein bars are also great things to keep stashed in your car.
Whether your teen is taking drivers ed to prepare for their permit or is a newly licensed driver, the conversation about staying safe on the road is ongoing. The best thing to do is to ensure you’re giving them the necessary experience behind the wheel that builds confidence so they know how to handle any situation they may encounter.
For more tips for new teen drivers, read my 8 Ways to Help Your Teen Driver Stay Safe on the Road.
I participated in a winter driving webinar with Toyota and was loaned a RAV4 Prime XSE Premium to experience the vehicle’s AWD. No compensation was provided for this post.