Do you let your Au Pair drive in the snow?

by cv harquail on January 23, 2012

Snowstorms in weird places (like Oregon) and snowstorms in predictable places (like Chicago) have raised the question for many aupair host parents —

Do you allow your au pair to drive in the snow?


Of course, there are a million variables that affect this decision. Here are the ones I came up with off the top of my head:

  • Is snow frequent or rare?
    Is the snow deep, light, icy?
    Does your car have 4 wheel drive?
    Is your car a Volvo?
    Is your car already beat up, or rather new?
  • Is your au pair a good driver?
    Has s/he got lots of experience driving in snow?
    Is s/he from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Northern Canada?
  • Is the specific trip urgent or discretionary?
    Daylight or after dark?
    With children or without?
  • Are drivers in your area generally comfortable in snow?
    Do you live on a hill?
    Are your town roads well-plowed?
    Can you avoid hilly or unplowed roads to get to where you want to go?
  • Can you afford to lose your (au pair) car to a body shop for a week or two?

As this host parent put it— many many variables! So, how do you decide?

Dear AuPairMom-

Our family has recently moved from a warm weather area to the east coast and we’ve never had to deal with snow before. We just had our first real snowfall of the season and I’ve very hesitant to allow our AP to drive in it. She has experience driving in snow in her home country (probably more than I do!) and says she is not afraid to drive in it.

For those of you living in areas that get snowfall, do you let your au pairs drive in the snow?

I’m in foreign territory here because we’ve never had to think about this before and would love to hear how others handle it.

And does it depend on where she is going or while working or not? What about when it’s not a huge storm, some cars are out on the road, and some roads are likely plowed, but sidestreets and such are icy and temperatures are still below freezing?

I feel that if she doesn’t HAVE to go out, I’d rather not take that risk. But I see it differently depending on the need. Going to the grocery story, taking the kids to school (if  schools were open), or going somewhere a planned important event like a going-away party for another AP, I see as more of a need than her wanting to go to Starbucks or the gym.  

Also, HD and I are doing some minimal driving (nearby errands), but I feel more comfortable with us taking that risk than her. DH has had years more driving experience and frankly, it’s our own car that we’re risking. And I just don’t feel like the headache right now of having to pay for car repairs because our AP felt she needed to drive to Starbucks in the snow. But, I feel like I’m being contradictory or unfair if I say she can’t drive, while DH and I continue to use the cars. Is this at all reasonable?

Some additional background — we love our current AP, who is leaving soon, she’s very responsible & mature and very good natured. Not at all whiny or immature. She rarely asks much of us, but she is pushing a little with this. However, she is very used to having a car at her disposal (we have a very nice 3rd AP car with very few restrictions). I know this is inconveniencing her and she is not thrilled. And, to top it off, my brand new SUV was recently stolen, so we are currently using our AP car and a rental car as our means of transport. We have her on the agreement so she can drive the rental, but again, I just don’t want to take the risks of any more car headaches right now.  

I really want to be reasonable but I am a little confused at the whole situation.

Image: Not Driving Today…. AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by subsetsum


sleepytime January 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I grew up in an area with plenty of snow, so I would begin with the same rule that my parents would have applied to me. Do not drive in icy conditions- if there is absolute need to leave the house, the parents will drive. Light snow is no big deal (light snow meaning one inch over several hours, and the light flaky stuff.) When snow is on the ground and not falling then its depends on the condition of the place she is going to, but I would be far more lenient. However, when snow is in the process of falling it can be unpredicatable (especially on the East coast) whether it will just stay light or turn to sleet. I would be really cautious about having anyone out on the roads.
Honestly, I worked so many years in a snowy area in service industries- people who are used to snow just don’t go out in bad conditions. The restaurants are empty. And there are far fewer accidents at that time of year because of it. Don’t feel bad telling her to adhere to common sense, especially with your property and your liability.

We live on a road that is the last plowed in town, and for this reason we will always have a four wheel drive vehicle. But that is so that I can get to work not just for starbucks!
We have three cars, they are all at least 10 years old, two don’t even carry collision insurance. They all carry as much liability as possible, along with an umbrella policy on the household. But I still would never lend out the car during sleet, or more than light snow. I’m starting to think twice about heavy rain because our au pair brakes hard.
Even if your au pair is from a northern european country, there are still plenty of accidents that happen just because the road is a little slippery and the brakes are hit a little hard. They are fender benders, but they are still costly and you are the one who will be paying after she has gone home. You aren’t being contradictory: you are the one who will shoulder the consequences of any accident.

I often feel like if the au pairs shouldered the true cost of personal car use (51 cents per mile, deductible after an accident, paying the premium hike for as long as it lasts) I would feel much more generous about car use. The au pair we currently have has gone out every night except 5 in the last 10 weeks. After I started having her pay for gas she suddenly stopped being the local taxi service. From here on out, I think I will always have our au pair pay for her own gas use.

AFHostMom January 23, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Normally under the circumstances you described (her personality, having the spare car, her comfort level)–yes. With your family down a car and using a rental–no.

LuvCheetos January 23, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Sleepytime, I totally agree with you about if the APs actually shouldered the burden of their car use, they wouldn’t drive so much. We are lenient and have a large car, so our car has been the default AP taxi for the past year. Between 2 APs, we have had 3 accidents in 8 months. We only claimed one because the AP hit another car. The other 2 we didn’t claim on insurance. So now, our car is smashed and the trade in value reduced by a few thousand dollars. Not to mention all of the gas we have paid for and the extra miles on the car because we allowed them to drive pretty far away. It really adds up! We now have a rule that we fill the car every 2 weeks unless we’ve used it more than usual. Generally, our usage and the usage for the kids is less than 30 miles per week. If it goes through more than a tank in 2 weeks, the Ap is responsible for putting gas in it to eek it along until the 2 weeks mark. We’re still paying for some of her gas, but we’re ok with that. We just don’t feel we should pay to drive every AP in the area around. We’ve also placed limits on where the car can go.

As for snow and ice, I’m cautious. I can’t afford to have another AP accident. I can’t afford the deductible and the raise in insurance rates. Our AP is only 19, so not really an experienced driver. She’s a good driver, but I don’t feel comfortable with the level of her experience in adverse weather. Bottom line, it’s my car and I feel I can place limits. Dh and I are more experienced in the snow. I grew up in a cold climate and learned to drive in the snow. I think it’s reasonable that we might drive but tell her no. She doesn’t need to go to Starbucks or wherever. If she does, one of her friends can pick her up on the few days/nights that we restrict driving because of the weather.

Host Mommy Dearest January 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Just b/c she has snow driving experience does not mean that others on the road do, so if you want to avoid offending her you could present that angle. There are higher risks to safety and the car due to potentially worse road conditions (Northern Europe may do a better job at snow removal) and people in your area on the road with less snow driving experience (more transplants in the US). I think it is reasonable to restrict her snow driving to only critical trips out and only when you deem the conditions reasonable.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 23, 2012 at 4:15 pm

As someone who learned to drive in the snow, which included lessons about steering out of a skid (which required beginning drivers to speed up and slam on the brakes over and over so we could learn how to control the car), I’d say that if your AP has extensive experience driving in the snow, then she’s probably safer on the roads than you — even though you have more driving under your belt.

If an AP conveys that she has driven to secondary school in the snow (many of my European APs attended secondary school, especially ausbildung programs far from their villages, towns or cities), which means during the winter they logged in some serious snow time. We have had several APs with this type of experience and have not suspended driving privileges in the winter.

APs from warmer climes have absolutely no experience, but can learn the basics (part of which is recognizing when it’s unsafe to drive). We were fortunate that our winter was very mild for one Brazilian AP (as in we had less than 3 inches of snow all winter), but for a Chinese AP, her disinterest in learning how to drive in the snow in December meant that we suspended her privileges until the snow melted at the end of February (by which time her driving skills had weakened to the point that we suspended her driving privileges until she passed DH’s driving test again).

If you don’t have a lot of snow experience yourself, then there are a lot of driving programs run by off-duty police officers that might help you become a safer driver (believe me – I’ve watched plenty of adult snow novices get stuck because they drive too slow or react to a skid too slowly) and you can insist that your AP take a course, too, if she wants to drive in the snow.

Unless you live in Maryland, DC, or Virginia, chances are the roads in your area are plowed in a reasonable amount of time, making them pretty safe – it’s the sleeting and freezing rain that make things dicey.

Some snow tips that I give to our APs (on the rare occasions when it snows in our area: 1) drive with a full tank of gas and a charged cell phone – if there’s an accident on the road ahead of you and you’re stuck in traffic for a long time you don’t want to be caught without heat! 2) even though you don’t need a heavy winter jacket in the car, if you’re going a long distance, have one available in case you get stuck. 3) If bad winter weather has started, realize that the snow can fall faster than the plows can move it out of the way – while you might know how to drive in snow, chances are that the people around you don’t – so only drive if you absolutely have to (e.g. to get back home).

I would not have a problem putting a curfew on the car if bad weather were anticipated. However, once the snow is done and the roads have been cleared, then it is usually safe to drive (especially if your AP has snow experience).

My 2 cents January 23, 2012 at 4:52 pm

We do not generally, and this applies to our German girls and our girls from warmer climates. I just don’t see the need for it in view of the much greater risk. If they need to go somewhere, we take them to and from if necessary. We also suggest they stay at a friend’s for the evening/day or the friend come to us (this is on weekends when they are off, of course). My husband loves to show off his skills in the snow so he’s eager to drive them and pick them up!

Margaret January 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Although we have limited snow in our area, each winter brings at least some days where the roads are snowy or icy. We only get au pairs who have sufficient experience driving in winter conditions. For instance, in Norway and Sweden, those girls have to take a driving test on an ice rink where they put a huge moose placard up on the ice and make the girls prove that they can control the car well enough to stop without hitting the moose! So, we’re really comfortable having those girls drive in most winter conditions, and it’s been great to keep the kids from being home-bound and going totally crazy when there is a winter storm that keeps them out of school.

With that said, if there’s such bad ice that my husband or I would not drive on it, we wouldn’t put the au pair in the position of having to drive, either.

Danielle January 24, 2012 at 12:56 am

We live in Seattle, and we just got our worst snowstorm in years- maybe 10 inches? I am from the east coast and was pretty comfortable driving in snowy upstate NY, DC, and NYC, but it’s completely different here. I am not comfortable driving in the snow here, and therefore I’m not comfortable with my AP driving in the snow either. Which is fine, because it hardly ever snows here. I’m hoping that last week was the only snowstorm of the year. The reasons why it’s so different here are that this city is just a series of neighborhoods built on steep hills, the city does not use salt and only owns like one plow, no one knows how to drive in snow, the list goes on and on. And we live in a fairly walkable neighborhood, so if the AP wants to go to Starbucks there are at least 3 within walking distance, not to mention the other 8 independent coffee shops. Our AP didn’t ask to drive last week, she seemed pretty content to stay in the house. We were housebound too, so I guess it wasn’t an issue- I got to work from home.

If I lived in a clime where it snowed more regularly I’d have to reconsider the question.. and I would probably say “it depends.” For the OP, I think she’s right to limit car use, especially considering her current car situation with being down a car. Maybe she or her husband could offer to drive the AP somewhere, if she’s completely stuck?

Former AP and current Nanny January 24, 2012 at 6:16 am

I think this depends on maybe where your AP is from, for example Sweden where I’m from, the roads clear quickly, people are used to driving in any condition and there are sand deposits everywhere.
Talk to your AP about the diff. of your area, is it very hilly, do the snowploughs take forever to get to your area? And make sure you tell her she can still use the car for important things OR be prepared to be AP taxi until the snow melts.

WestMom January 24, 2012 at 10:29 am

I think this is a common sense question to me. We only hire drivers with experience in snowy conditions because our APs will need to drive in snow at some point.

If the conditions are so bad that the schools are closed, or I personally would not go out, then my AP cannot go out with the car. If she asks- especially for something as unimportant as going to Starbucks, it would probably make me question her judgement. It has never happened.

On the other hand, if the roads are decently plowed and I would feel comfortable driving myself, then I can’t see why I would not let her go.

NoVA Host Mom January 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm

We are on only our second driving AP, so this question was one I had concerns with as well. Since I grew up (and learned to drive) in the snowy and icy Northeast region (I remember doing driver’s ed through the ice ruts in the city streets), and I have to drive in all conditions as a matter of my job, it really does become a matter of common sense.

If the roads are being treated, snow is not heavy or too icy, and it seems reasonable, then yes, the AP can drive in the snow. If conditions are still changing or severe, and it is not a necessity (and cabin fever, while understandable, does not count), then no.

We had a little spate of snow earlier this month while the AP was on duty. I was sleeping for my midnight shift and woke to find snow on the ground. Knowing our AP to be a responsible and cautious driver, and knowing she spent her first 6 months (starting in January) driving for 2 little ones in Detroit, I did not worry about her ability to get everyone home from school safely. I also know that she is fully aware that if for any reason she feels uncomfortable with the driving conditions for her ability, she is to call (and feels comfortable calling). Naturally, if I were concerned about the conditions, I would have told her to stay put and arranged to get to her to take over the drive home.

I understand the OP’s concerns given her own unfamiliarity with driving in that weather. If you have no experience in it, by all means do not try it out now with kids in the car or when you do not need to. I think placing some moderate restrictions on the AP is reasonable. I like WestMom’s rules about it.

Certainly since you are already 1 car down, what can and might be the “standard” driving rules and access has to change. If her car is now shared by all of you, then it’s under new management, so to speak, until the previous set up is up and running.

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