Prepare your teen for their drive to this year's Queenstown Winter Festival


The cold has arrived, and with snow blanketing many parts of the country it's a reminder that the winter festival season is just around the corner.

For parents with teenagers heading to one of the many winter festivals scheduled for the next few months, it’s time to start thinking about how you can help your teen drivers prepare for a safe journey to and from their festival destination. Remember, it is not just advice for when they arrive at the event that is useful – but guidance for the drive there and back is vital too.

For some teens, this will be their first experience of driving long distances in potentially wet and icy conditions – a stressful experience for both the driver and the parent waiting at home.

The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) has created a dedicated website to help parents with teen drivers – link) – which offers a set of practical skills and free tools to encourage parents to work alongside their teens to help identify and manage risk situations, when driving by themselves.

“The Safe Teen Driver website not only provides useful festival hazard advice to discuss with your teen, it also suggests some different ways to talk about the risks so they don’t think you’re over-reacting,” says NZTA Chief Executive Geoff Dangerfield.

NZTA Regional Manager Access and Use Southern Greg Allnutt suggests the following tips for driving to the Queenstown Winter Festival (22 June – 1 July):

  • Get your teen to plan their trip, check the weather forecast and road conditions before they leave, and think about where they’re going and what route they should take.
  • SH6 and 8 to the north and south of Wanaka have several sections of winding, rolling and mountainous terrain.  Teens will need to take extra care especially on sections such as the Lindis Pass between Wanaka and Omarama, the Manuka Gorge between Milton and Lawrence and the Kawarau Gorge between Queenstown and Cromwell. 
  • The weather in this area during winter can be treacherous, with fog, ice and snow ready to booby trap these roads, so teens need to take extra care and drive to the conditions. Teens will have to drive slower than they normally would; it only takes a spilt second to lose control in wet and icy conditions. 

Teens should carry snow chains that they know how to use and fit and should also be aware of when they need to put them on.

Other key areas the NZTA encourages parents to discuss with their teen drivers includes:

  • Highlighting the best route and busy areas
    Where possible, parents should thoroughly plan their teen’s route with them, so they can concentrate on driving and not be distracted by navigating
  • The importance of getting enough sleep
    Even moderate sleep deprivation can be dangerous when driving
  • Driving at night
    40% of crashes involving young drivers happen when it’s dark
  • Driving with friends in the car
    When a young driver has two or more passengers in the car with them, they’re ten times more likely to have a crash than if they were driving alone. If those passengers are about the same age as the driver, the risk is more than fifteen times higher than if they were driving alone


Winter driving tips for teens

Tips for teaching your teen to drive during the winter months:

Drive by daylight

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.

Skid awareness

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.

Gear up!

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, brake gently and use higher gears when travelling uphill and a lower gear when downhill to help maintain tyre traction.

The 4 second rule

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. 

Lights on, but dip down

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. 

Sun strike secrets

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.