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.

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.

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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.

Nighttime Driving Tips to Keep You and Your Kia Safe

night driveGrowing up in a rural town, there was very little to do at night or on the weekends. Like in all small towns, the sidewalks rolled up at 8 p.m. We did a lot of driving—not just to get to activities in other parts of the county (for a long time, the nearest movie theater was a forty-five minute drive away)—but also as an activity itself. Sometimes we’d stop at the gas station, get a couple sodas and a bag of chips, and just drive around the countryside looking for the shine of a coyote’s eyes in the headlights.

Driving at night is vastly different from driving during the day—anyone who has been behind the wheel in the dark knows this. It’s the most dangerous time of day to drive, especially if you are new to driving. Here are some tips to make driving at night safer and easier:

1. Buy a car with LED headlights. You can easily tell the difference between LED headlights and standard headlights. Most standard headlights have a yellowish cast, while LEDs usually have a bluish cast. They are brighter, making it easier to see the road, the shoulders, and anything in the road, farther off. The further you can see in the dark, the safer you will be. Luckily, most new cars today are equipped with LED headlights. They are less likely to burn out, cheaper, and make driving at night much safer.

2. Learn not to overdrive your lights. What does it mean to overdrive your headlights? It means that you are driving faster than your brain can process what is actually being illuminated by the lights. Speed limits are selected for daytime driving conditions, when the world is lit by the sun, and you can see for miles down a flat road, giving you minutes (or at the very least, seconds) to react to something you see in the road. Overdriving your lights means you’ll only have a split second to react to a hazard, which is usually not enough time to make the right decision to keep yourself and your passengers safe. Slow down so that you have at least four seconds between the edge of your lights and when the car gets to that location.

3. Use your high beams. Yes, it’s annoying when someone comes around their corner in the opposing lane with their high beams on—that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use them. High beams can greatly extend the distance you can see, especially during clear conditions. They might not be as effective during rain, snow, or fog. If there is moisture on the road, high beams will sometimes bounce away from the car, instead of reflecting back in to give you more visibility. Use your best judgement—if you can see better with them on, put them on. If visibility is worse, turn them off. And try to remember that they are on. You don’t want to be the one driving around, blinding everyone else.

4. Avoid staring into an oncoming car’s headlights. As humans, we are naturally inclined to look towards the light. This, however, can be very bad for nighttime drivers. While headlights probably won’t blind you, they can ruin any night vision you may be developing. Once the car is passed, your eyes will have to adjust to the darkness again. You can avoid this problem by looking at the shoulder as a car passes you.

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5. Pay special attention to animals. Animals are more likely to approach the road and attempt to cross during the night than they are during the day. Because they are harder to see at night, humans are more likely to hit them. A phenomena called change blindness is often the culprit. On the road, you are looking for car-sized objects in your way, not animal-sized objects (this is also sometimes the reason motorcyclists are hit with a vehicle). You’re prepared for a vehicle, but not for a deer. Keeping a special eye out for smaller hazards at nighttime can keep you safe.

6. Pay attention to the behavior of other drivers. You are more likely to encounter a drunk driver at night than you are during the day. It’s not always easy to spot a drunk driver. They may be driving along perfectly fine, but when a car appears in the opposing lane, they suddenly swerve towards them (they are drawn toward the light). They are not always swerving all over the road, though they may run stop signs and stop lights. Simply be more aware of what other drivers are doing and drive defensively to protect yourself and your passengers.

7. Take a nap if you are tired. Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving, and drowsiness can sneak up on you. It’s more common at night, when the body has environmental triggers (like darkness) telling it that it is time to sleep. Pay attention to your body. Have you been sitting too long? Are your eyes starting to feel heavy? Pulling over, getting out, and jogging around your car may help a little, but if you are really tired, pulling over and taking a nap is the best solution. This is true, of course, only if the area is safe enough to do so. Calling someone and talking to them while you drive, or talking to your passengers is also a good way to stay awake if you feel yourself start to get drowsy while driving and are not in a safe place to stop.

How to Teach a Teenager to Drive

Anyone who’s ever had to teach someone else to drive knows that it can be an exceedingly time consuming and stressful process. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or stressful, however. In fact, it could easily be fun. While driver’s education can be a great resource for teaching a teen the fundamentals of driving, driving is best learned through practice, which very few driver’s ed classes can offer, especially to a large group of kids. This leaves the parents with the responsibility. If you need to teach your teenager to drive, here are some tips to make this process easier:

1. Get the proper hand positions. As your teen learns to drive, he will probably naturally find the most comfortable and maneuverable places for his hands on the wheel. Until he start to build his own habits, encourage him to put his hands at nine and three (yes, nine and three, not ten and two). This is the ideal spot for the best control over the vehicle.

2. Relax those arms. Anxiety and stress are the enemy of learning and the enemy of safe driving. Also, having tensed shoulders, arms, and hands are less likely to react well to danger or even just to clearly communicate what the driver wants to do to the wheel in front of him. Help your teen relax and make sure that his arms are relaxed to.

2015 Kia Cadenza3. Encourage focused driving. The pull of the smartphone can be too much for some teenagers. For those that can’t seem to keep their hands off of their cellphones while driving, it might be best to leave the phone at home while learning how to drive. Seriously, texting and talking on the phone while driving are two of the worst habits that a teen can pick up. Don’t just discourage these bad habits—encourage the good ones.

4. Try to keep the mood in the car positive. One of the most difficult things about learning to drive a manual is how tense I could feel my father getting in the passenger’s seat. Every time I would stall out, he would grip the door handle and grit his teeth. I eventually gave up even trying to learn to drive that car and had to wait until college to learn in a friend’s car who wasn’t nearly so anxious. Teens respond well to positive reinforcement and very negatively to scolding, so maybe leave the scolding at home.

5. Praise him when he does well. It can be easy to just say nothing when he’s doing a good job and to only provide correction. Unless the correction is absolutely necessary (he consistently fails to notice that he is riding the center line, for example), stick just to praising him when he does well. Everyone makes mistakes—it’s important not to make a big deal out of them while he’s learning or he’ll lose his enthusiasm for learning.

6. Teach him what a car in crisis feels like. He will learn perfectly well on his own how a car behaves when it is being driven well. He won’t learn, however, what to do in an emergency, especially if he doesn’t know whether or not he is actually in an emergency. If he is learning to drive in the summer, it might be impossible to show him what it feels like to slide on the ice, but you can show him what to do when his car is skidding across asphalt or how the car reacts to slamming on the brakes.

7. Teach him when he should hit an animal and when he should swerve. It’s almost always a better idea to hit an animal that’s run out in the road than to jerk the wheel and try to swerve around it. In the moment, you might not realize that there is a car coming from the other direction or that there are trees right off the side of the road. It’s not pleasant to hit an animal, but it’s better than endangering your life and the life of others in your car or on the road just to save the life of a rabbit or a deer.

8. If possible, teach him to drive a stick. While not exactly necessary anymore, especially since even manual transmissions are now easier than ever to drive, it could still be valuable to teach your teen what it feels like to drive a stick. Once he’s built the muscle memory, it will be easier for him to drive a manual if there is ever an emergency and that’s his only choice.

9. Encourage him to speed up. Most new drivers are very cautious when it comes to high speeds (which may be anything over twenty miles an hour). They’ve likely never piloted a machine that can go that fast. Simply driving around a parking lot going fifteen miles an hour isn’t going to teach him very much about how to behave on a road. At some point, he will have to get out of the parking lot, drive on a residential road, and then even drive on a highway. If there are rural roads around you with high speed limits and little traffic, these are great places to start.

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 10. Give directions well before they are needed. This is something my parents are guilty of—they won’t tell you that you need to turn right until you are already at a stoplight, in a left-hand lane. This can be nerve-wracking for a teenager who is learning to drive (and any adult). Give directions in plenty of time for your teen to actually follow them.