Help your teen drive safely this winter

Issue 52 – August 2013

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 among 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.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) 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 on 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 the 'Safe Journeys for teen drivers website' 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.

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.

  • 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, keeping 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 the 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.
  • The 4-second rule: Weather conditions can affect stopping distance – it takes longer 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 in front.
  • 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? 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.
  • Sun strike secrets: Sun strike can occur at any time during the day, but is most likely to during sunrise or sunset, when the sun's rays hit your windscreen at a low angle. 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.

→ Visit the Safe Journeys for teen drivers website (

→ The Transport Agency's website is regularly updated with most roadwork details including closures and detour information. Visit the NZTA website ( or phone freephone 0800 4HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49)

→ The Transport Agency's 'On the move' website is a fully customisable travel information service that provides information to travellers before their journey, about road and driving conditions, incidents, and roadworks taking place on the state highways. To sign up, visit the 'On the move' website (

Summarised from a NZTA media release, 5 August 2013.


Published in consumer and occupational safety.