How to Teach Your Teen to Drive in the Snow

Probably the scariest part of learning to drive as a teenager is being faced with learning to drive in the snow. If your teenager (or you are a teenager) is coming to driving age soon, they will probably have to learn to drive in the snow, as they are also learning how to drive.

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When I took driver’s education, you could take it up to six months before your sixteenth birthday, so, being born in the late spring, I started learning to drive just before Thanksgiving, when the roads were already slick and wet from early winter snows. This is one of the most important skills that any driver who lives in a part of the country where it snows can have. Knowing how to stay safe on snowy, icy roads can keep you and other drivers alive. Here are some tips for teaching someone who is new to driving how to handle snowy conditions:

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1. Start with the right tires. All-weather tires might work perfectly fine on some vehicles, but if those tires are worn down or your teen drives a particularly light (read: high gas mileage) sedan, it is unlikely that your standard set of tires is going to do the trick. It might be time to invest in some snow tires—they really do make the difference. The newer the rubber is, the better it is at gripping the road, even when they are icy, and the deeper the tread is, the less likelihood there is of sliding and spinning out. The right tires can go a long way towards making a new driver feel safe on the road.

2. Make sure your car is equipped for snow driving. One of the best features of new cars, including those in the Kia lineup, are anti-skid and extra stability control, which make it much easier to first, know when you are losing control of a vehicle and then to regain control of that vehicle. Because most people, when they start to spin or slide, react badly (trying to turn the wheel in the opposite direction or stamp on the breaks) cars are now equipped with tools that make it much less likely that the driver can worsen the situation if something does go badly. A car that also has an exterior temperature meter can me a great way to give yourself some idea of what is going on outside of your vehicle.

3. Understand that AWD does not make a car impervious to icy roads. Where I attended college, the roads were packed with snow from the end of November until the beginning of April. While the rest of us were cruising around in our little junky sedans, trying to just stay moving in a straight line, there were a few notorious roadsters equipped with four-wheel drive that would zoom past. They acted like they were completely immune to the sliding and slipping that plagued the rest of us, though they eventually got into just as many accidents. All-wheel drive or four-wheel drive does not mean that you have better traction. If anything, it helps to prevent fishtailing. Slipping, sliding, and spinning are all still possibilities.

4. Turn on your lights and replace your windshield wipers. If you haven’t replaced your windshield wipers since the spring, now is the time to do it. Why? Because fresh wipers are going to be much better at clearing snow and scraping ice off of your windshield. That makes your teen’s visibility much better. Teaching him to turn on his lights while he drives will make him much more visible to other drivers, which ensures that even in heavy snow storms, he can be seen and avoided.

5. Pump the brakes, don’t stomp them. One of the biggest mistakes that a person can make when they feel their vehicle start to slide is to stomp on the brake pedal. This will cause the wheels to lock up, making it impossible for that vehicle to find traction. Instead, pump the brakes gently with your foot. This will avoid the locking mechanism and will help your tires find traction in the snow or ice again.

6. Do not panic. Driving in the snow can be a stressful experience. The worst thing that you can do is start to get anxious and irritated. This will lead to poor driving decisions. Remind your teen as he is learning to drive in the snow that it is important for him to be alert, but relaxed. If he is tensed up, his reactions will be jerky and will probably make whatever situation he finds himself in much worse.

7. Encourage practice. Do you know what to do if you feel your tires starting to skid? The best thing to do is to take your foot off the accelerator calmly, to maintain your direction, and wait for the car to slow down. Once it has, you can correct your direction. Working this behavior into your teen’s muscle memory, so that he does it automatically when he feels himself starting to slide, is the only way to make sure he will be safe if he does encounter a problem. That requires extensive practice. One of the best places to practice is in an abandoned parking lot, where he can build up a little bit of speed, practice turning and handling in the snow or on ice, and carefully and safely practice what to do when he starts to slide or lose control of the vehicle.

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