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Winter rules

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)
Lisa Gutierrez Knight Ridder

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — About two months ago Rhonda Blodgett’s 16-year-old daughter totaled a family car on a road outside Lawrence, Kan.

The tires slid on a gravel shoulder, and Ashley, who got her driver’s license in July, overcorrected to get back onto the road. The car rolled three times. Safely buckled up, Ashley walked away unharmed.

That was on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon. With hazardous winter weather looming, her mom, who hates driving in bad weather, is nearly an emotional wreck.

Yes, the first winter of driving can be that scary for parents of novice drivers like Blodgett. But driver’s education instructors and safety experts say that parents can start now to prepare their offspring for what lies ahead on snow-packed roads.

“When I pulled up on that accident and I saw that car and the windows were out and the airbags (were deployed) … I never want to experience that again. I can’t believe she lived through it,” says Blodgett, who manages a Phillips station in Olathe, Kan. “I think I’ve been blessed once.

“I probably will not allow her to drive by herself to and from work in bad weather.”

The first thing to do: Talk to your teen.

“I would encourage parents to really sit down and talk to their teens about how comfortable they really feel about driving on snow and ice,” says clinical social worker Amy Gragg.

She developed and teaches a course called “What’s Driving You?” for the Family Conservancy, formerly Heart of America Family Services, in Kansas City, Kan. Gragg focuses on how a driver’s emotions and mindset can affect driving.

“Some teenagers may not feel at all comfortable with (winter driving), and if they’re anxious and scared and worried, they’re not going to make good decisions while they’re driving,” she says. “If they’re scared, ask what they’re scared about and see if you can tackle each one of those issues.”

Parents should tell their teens that it’s natural to be apprehensive about winter driving.

“You should be,” says Mike Right, vice president of public affairs for AAA Missouri in St. Louis. “The hazards go up exponentially. There’s a lot of additional stress and a lot of additional concerns that are brought on by inclement weather.”

A helpful mindset to encourage in young drivers is to drive as though they have no brakes, says longtime driving instructor W. Royce Evers.

Translation: Drive cautiously, especially under winter driving conditions. “The first thing I teach the kids, don’t trust any other driver,” says Evers, founder of Raytown (Mo.) Suburban Driver Education.

Winter is a great time for parents to break their teens of that “always running late” habit. Especially when roads get dicey, parents should have their teens leave early. (That will also give them plenty of time to clear the snow and ice off all the windows.)

In fair weather, teens tend to get into most accidents because they’re driving too fast, Evers says. They round a curve too fast; they stop on a dime. Add icy roads and the results can be disastrous.

“Hurrying is a big factor,” Evers says. “How do you eliminate it? Get your life under control.”

Some parents take their novice drivers out on the first bad weather day into deserted parking lots or out-of-the-way roads to let them get the real-life feel for lane changes, taking curves and applying the brakes and accelerator on slick pavement.

That’d be the perfect time to review two of Evers’ most important rules of the road: Touch the brakes gently on a slippery road long before you get to the stop sign ahead, and keep your hands on or near the horn. “My kids drive with their thumbs on the horn at all times,” he says.

AAA’s Right recommends that parents engage in “commentary driving” when they drive with their teens as passengers.

“For instance, ‘I am now looking to the left,’ and explain what it is that you see, so that they understand the necessity of scanning the road and identifying potential hazards,” Right says. “Mature drivers do these things automatically. But a youngster that’s brand new to developing that skill needs to consciously go through this process so they begin to understand the need to take in information and decide what is relevant.”

Have the teen do the same when they’re behind the wheel, Right says. “Ask them to tell you what’s going through their mind, how they are assessing traffic situations as they move down the road.”

Parents might also want to pull the owner’s manual out of the glove box and review it, Right says, “because it might have some information relevant to the vehicle they are driving. Is it front-wheel drive or rear-wheel? Does it have ABS system or not? That makes a difference on how you accelerate, how you go around a curve, what you do in a panic situation.

“Parents should talk through these things because you can’t possibly provide your youngsters with hands-on experience for everything,” adds Right.

Gragg says parents should set rules about winter driving habits – and stick to them – such as limiting the number of passengers a teen can have in the car while they’re driving. The fewer distractions, the better.

She tells parents that driving is their child’s privilege. “Just because you’re old enough to have your permit and license doesn’t mean you can drive whenever,” she says. “And sometimes I think that can be leverage if they’re not following rules.”

Mitch Lee, director of internal audit for NovaStar Financial in Kansas City, set rules for his two sons, one of whom was driving his mother’s car when he slid into another car in an icy dentist’s parking lot. “We had a little thing about not driving after 10, especially when they were starting out driving, especially in winter,” Lee says.

Lee, who previously ran a youth education and safety program for Farmers Insurance, had his sons sit down with his insurance agent and review what would happen to their premiums if they got a traffic ticket or had an accident.

“The other thing we did, and I’m a big believer in this, I actually asked the kids to help on the insurance cost,” he says. Early on they knew “if they had an accident I would expect them to help pay for the accident.”

Icy roads or not.

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