With visions of the family car fish-tailing in dim, snow-filled parking lots and fenders crunching into frosty lampposts, it’s a milestone many parents dread: teaching a teenager to drive in the winter.
And yet, giving young drivers the practice, skills and confidence to control a vehicle in these challenging conditions is all too important. If you have a son or daughter with a learner’s license, it could be well worth your while to spend extra time on winter driving skills, even if they’re taking lessons with a professional driver.
“We actually say winter is the best time to learn how to drive,” says Flaviu Ilovan, chief instructor, Alberta Motor Association (AMA) Driver Education. “If they learn how to drive in the winter, driving in spring or summer will be much easier and enjoyable because there are less hazards on the roads.”
So, what do you need to teach your teenager about winter driving?
WHAT YOUR TEEN NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT WINTER DRIVING
The ‘one action at a time’ rule
Ilovan recommends starting with and practising the basics: braking, steering, accelerating and cornering. But he says parents should remind their teens of a very important rule.
“You should only be doing one action at a time—braking or steering or accelerating. Otherwise, that’s definitely going to divide your traction.”
If you had 100 percent of your traction available approaching a right-hand turn, and you use 90 percent of it for braking, you’re left with only 10 per cent traction available for steering, says Ilovan.
“It’s the single-most important thing to make kids aware of, and it’s a common mistake, braking or accelerating while steering. It’s not good for traction,” says Ilovan.
The ‘about to crash’ rule
It’s also important to prepare young drivers for crashes, where they have to apply the ‘one-action’ rule and do something else that might also be contrary to natural instinct: look in the direction you want to go, not at the thing you want to avoid crashing into.
“If you do get into a skid or you’re going through a curve too fast and you’re losing traction, I would suggest to stay off the pedals until you can regain control of the vehicle by steering only,” says Ilovan. “Most drivers panic and take the wrong action or freeze and take no action, so it’s good to have awareness about this. In that situation, braking or hitting the gas pedal could make things worse.”
Instead, in a skid situation:
- Identify the route you want your vehicle to go (not the pole or the wall)
- Stay off the pedals (both gas and brakes, this could make things worse)
- Steer the vehicle to safe place
- Once you regain control of the vehicle, then resume braking or accelerating
“It’s important to identify the route you want to go and steer that way, otherwise, chances are you’re going to hit the very thing you want to avoid.
The threshold braking rule
All of the basic winter driving skills, getting comfortable with the safest braking technique might be the most important.
The threshold braking technique involves applying enough pressure to the pedals to stop the vehicle quickly without locking up the wheels, which can lead to skidding.
“You would really want to spend some time letting them practise braking and getting good at controlling the vehicle on a slippery surface,” says Ilovan, who suggests getting the speed up to 25 to 30 kilometres an hour and then doing the threshold braking technique.
Of course, you’ll want to find a more or less deserted parking lot to practise this particular element, but beyond braking, Ilovan encourages parents to take their teens into quiet residential areas in the early stages, and then eventually main roads so they can get used to the unique challenges of driving amidst heavier traffic and varied conditions and hazards.
“To me, the key area beside the actual mechanics of driving is to be proactive. You definitely want to talk about hazard recognition, and use of speed and space.”
In Part II of Teaching a Teenager to Drive in Winter, we’ll review good rules of thumb for hazards, speed, space, visibility, vehicle checks and emergency preparedness. Thank you to our friends at AMA for providing this important and timely insight!