Icy winter roads can be nerve-wracking for anyone, even the most experienced of commuters.
But imagine you’ve just gotten your license and have never been behind the wheel during the winter months. That’s what Andrew Stussie, a junior at Lawrence High School, is facing as the weather turns colder.
“I’m a little nervous,” says Stussie, who got his license in July. “I think I’m kind of most concerned with ice, because I have a bit of trouble with turns, I take them a little bit too fast. And so I’m trying to really watch the speed I take on my turns to make sure I don’t mess up on that.”
His mother, Lori, says that she’s had discussions with her oldest son about the problems different weather patterns can create.
“We talk about rain and the difference of the surface of a road according to conditions, but we haven’t worked too much on winter driving yet,” she says, but adds she’s planning on taking him to a parking lot ASAP. “Oh, definitely, that’s for sure. Probably at Prairie Park, the elementary school. We live close to the school, so we’ll probably go there (and practice).”
That’s a good place to start says Robert Shandy, also an LHS counselor, who has taught drivers’ education for the bulk of his career. He says teens need to realize a lot can go wrong in winter driving conditions.
“The tire that’s in contact with the surface is about the size of the palm of your hand. You’ve got four of those, that’s what touching between your car and the road anytime,” Shandy says. “It’s not like you’ve got this big old mass on there. It’s just those four pads.”
We talked with Shandy and Jim Hanni, executive vice president of Kansas AAA, for tips for preparing teens for winter driving.
• Clear the car of snow and ice. Students who have to be at school early — Stussie has his first class at 6:30 a.m. — should take care to get up a bit earlier as the days grow shorter. Not an easy thing to ask or do, but an extra 15 minutes will give a teen time to properly defrost the car’s windshields and clear it of snow.
“Visibility is king,” Shandy says. “And not just the front windshield, not just the peephole that you can see out of. Take time to clear all the windows and keep them clear. Let the defrost run for a while on the windshield because you can get that iced-over look on the inside as well.”
• Top it off. Teens also may not be as quick to fill up on gas, window washer fluid and other car maintenance fluids, which can be especially problematic in winter months when running out of any much-needed fluid can be treacherous, our experts say. Remind them or help them take care of fluid maintenance.
• Leave more distance. The top rule for winter driving especially applies to the season’s newest drivers.
“All drivers, teens included, should at the very least double following distances when the roads are slippery,” Hanni says. “A 10-second following distance may be inadequate on glare ice that is melting.”
• Watch for problems before they arise. “Parents should make a realistic appraisal of the teen’s skill on slippery surfaces,” Hanni says. “Teens who have trouble controlling the vehicle when the parent is in the car will not automatically improve when they are out on slippery surfaces by themselves.”
• A way to prepare your teen in good weather? Hanni suggests this exercise: Place a cup filled with water in the car’s cup holder, taking care that the liquid is about 1/8th an inch from the rim of a cup. Have the teen practice driving in such a way that a drop doesn’t slosh out of the cup.
• Take caution with potholes and gravel roads. Some students living in rural areas may get their wheels out of alignment from constant travel on unpaved surfaces, Shandy notes. And the same goes for ones driving around on city streets beat up by winter weather.
“You can probably get your wheels out of alignment and balance and those sorts of things could affect steering and all,” Shandy says. “I guess, but rights, those things could throw you into a skid.”
• Make a winter safety kit. Make sure your teen has a first aid kit and items like blankets, batteries and ice scrapers before the weather turns, says Hanni.
“Place a winter survival kit in every car,” Hanni says. “This should include an ice scraper, brush, shovel, sand or some other traction-enhancing medium, jumper cables, a flashlight with good batteries, basic hand tools, flares or reflector triangles, warm clothing, nonperishable food and a fully charged cell phone.”
• Know the route. Parents should make sure to know what Hanni calls a “flight plan” just in case they need to find their teen driver on the road.
“Every trip should have a flight plan,” Hanni says. “In other words, parents should know the destination, the route the teen plans to follow and the times of departure and return.”