Think about the last time you drove during a winter storm. It’s likely that you took it nice and slow, gave the other cars on the road a wide berth, and knew to steer into a skid. You knew when to pump the brakes very gently, and when to punch the gas temporarily to get over a heap of freshly plowed snow at the end of your driveway. And chances are that you never really learned any of these driving techniques; over time, you developed the instincts and muscle memory that now help you get home safely even in snowy, cold conditions.
What about your newly licensed teen driver? How is she going to become accustomed to operating a motor vehicle in inclement weather? It’s true that she will develop her own skills over time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stack the deck in her favor by taking these steps to winterize her car.
1. First Things First, Gather Emergency Supplies
If your teenager has her own car, put together a bin or box of emergency gear. (If she shares the family car, now’s the time to check that you have all the necessary supplies for your own sake, as well.) Include a set of tools; a first-aid kit; a change of warm clothing and/or a blanket; non-perishable foodstuffs like beef jerky; trail mix, peanut butter crackers, and the like; bottled water; a battery-powered radio; and power banks for charging devices.
The car should already have a tire pressure gauge, tools to change a tire, road flares, and a flashlight stashed in the trunk. And your teen driver should know how to check her tires’ pressure, change a flat, refill the wiper fluid, check the oil, and other basic maintenance tasks.
2. Give the Car a Tune-Up
Take the vehicle to your mechanic for a tune-up. Be sure to have all systems, hoses, filters, and components evaluated for their safety and efficacy. If anything needs to be repaired or replaced, do it now for peace of mind throughout the winter.
Now is the time to switch to motor oil and windshield wiper fluid that are formulated for winter use. Pick up an extra bottle of each to stash in the trunk, so that’s one less thing your teen will need to worry about. If you use snow tires, get them swapped in as well.
3. Take Your Teen Out for Practice Runs
As we mentioned in the intro, being a good winter driver is largely a product of experience. The good news? That experience doesn’t have to occur on the streets. Take your new driver out to a large empty parking lot — just like the one where you taught her how to parallel park and do a K-turn! — in varying winter conditions.
Go when the snow is falling, after it’s accumulated, when the pavement is slick with ice, and when the winds are blowing. That way she’ll be acquainted with all different types of scenarios and can practice techniques like braking, steering into a skid, and so on. Safety features like antilock brakes and electronic stability control can affect how the car handles.
Don’t forget to quiz your teenager on how to turn on the lights, front and rear wipers, defroster and heat, turn signals, and hazards. These might seem minor to you now, but it’s easy for an inexperienced driver to become flustered with even these seemingly small actions while trying to pay attention to everything that’s happening.
4. Emphasize an Overabundance of Caution
Throughout these practice sessions, emphasize to your new driver how important it is to drive slowly and extra carefully. A reduction in vehicle speed, especially in wintry weather, can be the difference between life and death, according to The Barnes Firm and its San Diego car accident attorneys.
Teach your driver to ignore any hostility or impatience on the part of other drivers. Tell her that if she’s driving in the right-hand lane, she can go as slowly as she likes and let others pass her by. After all, it’s far better for her to arrive late than to never arrive at all because of a serious or fatal accident.
5. A Little Mindfulness Goes a Long Way
Driving even in ideal circumstances can be scary for a new license holder. Add in reduced visibility, slippery roads, and impatient commuters, and it becomes even more frightening. Help your child find ways to deal with these stressors so she can keep a calm head while behind the wheel.
Taking deep, regular breaths or practicing mindful meditation can be extremely helpful. Soothing music is good, too. And tell your new driver that she always has the option of pulling off to the side of the road, or stopping for a cup of coffee in a diner, in order to ride out the storm.
Even when the weather outside turns frightful, you can rest assured that your teenager is doing everything by the book if you’ve taught her how to handle inclement conditions. Before either of you know it, she’ll be an old hand at driving in all kinds of weather!
What emergency supplies do you keep in your car? Any invaluable winter driving tips that you have learned over the years? Let us know in the comments!