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Help your teen drive safely this winter


With the cold comes the winter festival season and for many teens their first experience driving long distances, in icy cold weather.

Winter festivals are popular amongst teens keen to experience the best of New Zealand during the colder months and, every year, excited teens hit the road without considering all the risks they are about to face in unfamiliar, and at times hazardous driving conditions.

Three major winter events are being held in the Queenstown Lakes District this month with the Burton High Fives from 7 to 11 August, 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games 15 to 25 August, and Gay Ski Week 31 August to 7 September.

Understandably, this can be a nerve racking time for parents so the NZ Transport Agency has developed some tips to help parents keep their teens safe on the roads this winter. In addition to thinking about safety at the festival destination, teen drivers can really benefit from some guidance around how best to tackle any tricky weather related conditions they might encounter on the journey.

Identifying potential hazards and solutions before teens set off can minimise stress for both teen drivers and their parents. It can also prove an excellent opportunity to increase teen driving skills across the board.

Parents can also access link) – as a ‘go to’ resource for guidance on how to talk to their teens about driving safely. The website offers free tools and practical advice, to make it easier for parents to approach their teens and work collaboratively on pre-empting and handling hazards they may encounter. “We want to provide parents with not only useful advice around what areas teens often need help with, but also tips on how best to approach your teen so that they are as receptive as possible – as this can be half the problem,” says Transport Agency Road Safety Director Ernst Zöllner.

The Transport Agency’s Safe Teen Driver initiative is part of a wider cross-government programme of work designed to address the many risks teenage drivers encounter.  Changes over recent years include the introduction of a zero alcohol limit for drivers under 20, raising the driving age from 15 to 16, and increasing the difficulty of the restricted level licence test to encourage more experience.

While there are a number of different winter driving situations for parents to explore with their teens, the Transport Agency has identified some key points that are a great place to start and may help identify areas that need to be focused on.

Does your teenager know that driving at night requires more energy, concentration and experience? Encourage daytime driving when it is easier to spot hazards, visibility is better and there is less chance of ice and frost on the road.

Does your teenager know what causes a car to skid? Sudden braking, over-steering and driving unknowingly onto ice are just three reasons. Make sure they’re prepared and give them suggestions to avoid all these situations such as keeping a safe distance between cars, keep to the speed limit and looking for clues to spot ice. For example, patches of road that are shaded because ice in these areas may not thaw during the day, and can be hard to see when the rest of the road is in sunlight.

Winter driving increases the chance of ice, frost and snow on the road - things that could make your teenager lose control of their car. Inform them of ways to avoid this – like accelerating smoothly, braking gently and using higher gears when travelling uphill and a lower gear when downhill to help maintain tyre traction.

Weather conditions can affect stopping distance – it takes longer for your teenager to stop on slippery, frosty roads. In winter, especially in poor weather, encourage your teen to double the two-second rule to create a safe distance behind the car they’re following.

When travelling in fog, heavy rain or snow, does your teenager know that they will actually have better visibility with their lights dipped? And if they’re driving in snow, make sure you have shown them how to use and fit snow chains if they’re safe to use on the roads they’re travelling on. 

Most teenagers love the sun, but do they know how to avoid sun strike? Sun strike is actually more likely to happen in winter, as the sun is lower in the sky. To help minimise the effects, tell your teenager to keep their windscreen clean (inside and out), wear sunglasses when driving and use the car’s sun visors to block it out. Let them know that sometimes the only safe thing to do is pull over and wait for a few minutes until the angle of the sun changes.

Notes to editors
The Transport Agency’s website is regularly updated with most road work details including closures and detour information go to link).  This information is also available by phoning our freephone on 0800 4HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49).  The freephone can also be used to report any significant road issues or hazards which people may come across during their travels.  

The Transport Agency also uses other technology to provide information to enable drivers to make better informed choices about their travel is growing.  On The Move is a fully customisable travel information service that provides information to travellers before their journey, about road and driving conditions, incidents and road works taking place on the state highways. To sign up, go to link)