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Tips to share with your teen about staying safe on the roads this winter

Even the most thorough driver’s ed class is unlikely to fully prepare a new driver for their first run-in with black ice, a snowplow, or an unexpected storm system that hits when they’re already on the road. Are you prepared to teach your teen how to drive in these and other winter driving hazards?

Morse, of course, has some safe winter-driving tips that you can share with not just the youngest but all the drivers in your household. We hope this information helps all of you steer clear of a weather-related road emergency this winter.

Teaching your teen how to drive in these five winter-weather driving situations

Ultimately, the best way for your teen and other drivers in your household to deal with the hazards of driving in the winter, like sleet, wind and hail, snow and ice, and sand, salt, and debris left behind by snowplows, is to stay off the roads. However, even if there’s no snow in the forecast and the roadways appear clear, New England winters can serve up a lot of surprises for drivers.

The Morse team recommends asking your novice drivers if they know how to respond to some of the most common winter-driving challenges, such as skidding on ice, driving up a slippery hill, and sharing the roadways with snowplows. Depending on their answers, you may need to enhance their knowledge of what actions drivers should take if faced with these situations.

The following are five questions you can ask, along with the important safe-driving tips you might want to share.

1. What is the best way to drive in wintry weather?

We can’t say it enough: The safest strategy is to not drive at all when the weather outside is nasty. However, if you do end up having to drive in wintry conditions, the following tips should hopefully help you stay in control of your vehicle.

  • Take it slooow in order to maintain traction between your vehicle’s tires and the road’s surface.
  • Turn off all automated vehicle features, like cruise control, so that you have complete control should your tires lose traction.
  • Turn on your defroster to keep front and rear windows clear, but do not use the recirculate button, which might make your windows fog up.
  • Avoid sudden braking or acceleration, as this can lead to skidding on icy surfaces.
  • Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you, which is about 7–8 seconds on icy or snow-covered roads, and don’t try to change lanes or pass other drivers.
  • Put on your headlights, hazards, and, if your car has them, fog lights, to make your vehicle as visible to other drivers as possible.

Road conditions in the winter can change very quickly, going from bad to worse in a matter of minutes. If you’re getting nervous or having trouble seeing the road, the smartest option is to pull over into an open driveway, a service station, or anywhere that you and your car will be safely clear of other moving vehicles.

2. What do you do if your car starts to skid?

No matter how slowly you are creeping along on the roadway, your car can still lose traction and start to skid. This can be especially startling if you don’t even see the ice on the road, like in the case of a patch of black ice, so here are some tips on how to handle this situation.

  • Take your foot off the gas, because the last thing you want to do is accelerate your vehicle and cause your wheels to spin.
  • Move your foot to the brake and softly pump the brakes, which should activate your car’s anti-lock brakes.
  • Gently steer your car in the same direction that you feel the back end of your car sliding toward.
  • Shift into a lower gear if you have a manual transmission, as this will give you more control.
  • Once you feel like your tires have traction again, you can gradually accelerate.

Parents, if you were uneasy simply teaching your kids to drive, then you probably won’t like this suggestion—you may want to take your teen out to practice driving on slippery surfaces. If you can muster the courage to do this, you should find a very safe environment, like a large, empty parking lot. By driving on ice and testing the brakes, your young driver can see how their car feels and handles in these conditions.

3. What do you do if you get stuck in the snow?

You might think that once you get out of your snow-filled driveway, there’s little chance of getting stuck. In reality, your car can get stuck on a busy roadway, in a rut on the side of the road, or in a parking lot. If this does happen, you might be tempted to get out of the situation by gunning it. However, the best tactics to release your tires from the snow are the following.

  • Keep your wheels straight.
  • Use a very light touch on the gas pedal.
  • Rock the car forward and back by switching between drive and reverse.
  • Stop and change direction when the tires start to spin (unless you want to dig yourself even deeper into the snow).
  • Once you get the car moving, accelerate steadily and don’t stop until you reach solid ground.

This strategy isn’t fail-safe. If you’re still stuck after trying these steps, and you are in a place where it’s safe to be outside of your car, you can use a shovel to dig a path several feet long in front of each wheel. Then, spread sand in those tracks, especially near the wheels. Repeat all the same steps above. At this point, if you’re still not moving anywhere, it’s time to call a parent or roadside service for help.

4. How do you safely drive by a snowplow?

While snowplows do critical work on our roadways all winter long, they can also be very intimidating, especially the large Massachusetts Department of Transportation versions. These massive plows take up more than their fair share of the road, with wing plow blades that extend up to 10 feet beyond the width of the truck. They can add to your visibility issues in a storm by kicking up snow, sand, and road debris. Here are some safe ways to deal with snowplows.

  • Stay back—about 200 feet, or the length of three bowling lane alleys, is a good amount of distance to put between you and a plow.
  • Only pass a snowplow if you must, and do so on the left-hand side, as the extended wing plow is typically attached on the right side of the truck.
  • Don’t drive through a snow cloud created by a plow, as it might be concealing another vehicle or other road hazard.
  • Make sure the snowplow driver can see your vehicle by avoiding the “No Zone,” also called the blind spot.

If you come across multiple snowplows working side-by-side on a highway, it is extremely dangerous to try to pass between or go around them. Instead, try to practice patience, follow at a safe distance, and be grateful that they are clearing a nice path for you on the roadway.

5. How do you get your car up a slippery hill?

First, consider if there is another route you can take to get to your destination. If there isn’t a different way for you to go, then here are some tips for making sure you get the whole way up the hill.

  • Start with a slight bit of acceleration before you even reach the hill, which can help you gather some momentum to get to the top.
  • Keep the speed and pressure on the gas steady, because too much power can cause your wheels to spin.
  • Only stop your car if you must to avoid getting stuck or sliding backwards down the hill.

Getting down a slippery hill is equally as challenging as getting up one, and the same M.O. exists—find another route, if possible. When there’s no other way to go but down the hill, then follow similar strategies as you would if your car were to skid on flatter ground, the most important of which is to take it very slowly.

Morse, of course, has other winter-driving safety tips to share with you and your family

No driver is going to get very far in the harsh New England winter weather if their vehicle isn’t ready for the challenge. Your teen should stay on top of their car’s regularly scheduled maintenance, like oil changes and inspections. In addition, you will want to make sure that their car is stocked with the items from the Morse emergency car kit checklist. Both you and your kids will be thankful for having taken the time to put together this gear in the event they are ever stranded in a storm and have to wait for help to arrive.

The following are a few other things all drivers should do every year before venturing out on winter roads.

  • Keep the gas tank at least half-filled at all times.
  • Regularly monitor tire pressure.
  • Replace wiper blades at the first sign that they are losing effectiveness.
  • Get the car battery life checked.
  • Clear snow and ice from car windows, sides, roof, and headlights.

Finally, Morse, of course, cannot pass up an opportunity to remind parents and teens to talk about the dangers and illegality of using cell phones while driving. Driving distracted by your mobile device is always dangerous, but the risks are even greater in foul weather. That being said, having a fully charged-up cell phone in the car is essential, along with a car charger for those times when your drive is longer than expected. This way, you’ll be able to not only call for help if you ever need to but also notify your friends and family when you’ve arrived at your destination, so they can stop worrying!

The team at Morse Insurance is here with advice and guidance for you and all the drivers in your family, all year long. Winter is an especially treacherous season for Massachusetts drivers, so we want you to know that if you or your teen driver are involved in a car accident or other weather-related incident, we will be here to support you. For more information on insuring your teen driver or with questions about car insurance in general, please contact us .