LEBANON — As winter bears down on northern New England, roads become slick and icy, with driving conditions becoming increasingly dangerous. While seasoned drivers are prepared for New Hampshire’s winter roads, the colder months can be especially dangerous for the inexperienced teen drivers.
The Injury Prevention Center at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock is urging new and experienced drivers alike to keep their eyes on the road, especially as road conditions deteriorate over the course of the winter.
In New Hampshire, distracted driving is one of the top three causes of traffic crashes. Varying from fender-benders to fatal accidents, it is a major problem. For teen drivers, smartphones can be a source of distraction behind the wheel, with apps and texts from friends competing for their attention.
Both teen and adult drivers may benefit from disabling phone notifications while behind the wheel. Smartphone apps are available for that exact purpose; some are built-in to the phone’s operating system, while others are available for download. For example, if a driver gets a text, an automated reply is sent that states that the driver is on the road and will reply to the sender once they have reached their destination.
“We all want our friends and family to travel safely,” said Christopher Bishop, Youth Operator Specialist with the New Hampshire Teen Driver Program, part of the Injury Prevention Center. “Turn off app notifications, use an auto-reply app, or tell people that you won’t respond when you are driving. A proactive approach helps reduce distraction in the moment, gives social wiggle room, and provides a strong role model for teens and younger children about a driver’s responsibility.”
Parents also need to stress to their teen drivers that not only is using their phone while behind the wheel dangerous — it’s also against the law. New Hampshire’s Hands-Free Law, which went into effect in 2015, prohibits the use of hand-held devices while driving. However, it does allow the use of a Bluetooth device if over the age of 18. If caught using a hand-held device while driving, there are substantial fines and the potential for license suspension.
Along with modern distractions, teen drivers should be aware of the dangers of driving on slick roads and be prepared for the potentially dangerous elements. Remember to take it slow, brake gently to avoid skidding, and give plenty of room to plow trucks, snow removal crews and other vehicles. Keep a shovel, sand/kitty litter, an ice scraper/brush, and an emergency kit with food, water, flashlight, blankets, extra hats/gloves, hand warmers, jumper cables, a cell phone charger, first aid kit and one to two days’ worth of personal medications in the car.
“For some drivers, this might be their first winter driving on our roads. Educating your teens about winter safety is important,” Bishop said. “Like getting winter clothes out of storage or putting up holiday decorations, make sure to be prepared and get your car ready for winter weather.”
The Teen Driver Program also recommends going through a checklist to make sure your teen’s car is in good working condition before venturing out onto the roads:
Tires are in good order. Worn treads on tires don’t work as well as newer tires do.
Tires are inflated properly. In the cold weather, tires may not grip the road/stop effectively if not properly inflated.
Windshield wipers are working and fluid is topped off.
Battery is in working order.
Lights are in working order: blinkers, high beams, hazard lights, etc.
Defrost/defog system is in working order.
More than at any other time of year, it’s essential for all drivers to stay focused and keep their eyes on the roads when conditions are poor. For teens, that can also mean having to speak up when a driver isn’t paying attention, or a passenger is being distracting. Evidence shows that passengers in a car with a teen driver are the most common cause of distraction.
“When talking with your teen, encourage them to speak up and say to a friend, ‘Hey, that’s unsafe,’ when they feel their friend is making an unsafe choice while driving,” Bishop said. “Friends speaking up tends to be a better way for teens to understand that they need to put their phone down while driving.”
For information about safe driving and the Injury Prevention Center at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, visit the Injury Prevention Center’s Traffic Safety page and the Teen Driver Program website.