Most of us don’t think twice about jumping in the car and driving at night, but given the statistics about how hazardous nighttime driving is, perhaps now is a good time to review some of the safety precautions we can take to avoid becoming one of those statistics.
According to the National Safety Council, traffic accidents and related fatalities are three times higher between sunset and dawn. Pedestrians are four times more at risk at night, low visibility proving to be more of a factor than alcohol or other impairments. Most nighttime accidents occur in what would normally be considered good driving conditions – clear weather and dry road surfaces.
This implies that; a) the drivers are not physically safe enough to drive; b) the vehicles are not properly maintained or c) the drivers are not following nighttime driving safety precautions. The following suggestions address each of these areas and are intended to help you prepare to become a safer nighttime driver.
Preparing Yourself for Safe Nighttime Driving
Your ability to drive at night is affected by vision, age, alcohol or chemical impairments and fatigue. There are several steps that you can take to make nighttime driving a safer experience for you and others.
Have your vision checked regularly
Ninety percent of a driver’s reaction is dependent on vision. At night 20/20 vision is reduced to approximately 20/50. As we age our ability to see at night diminishes and we require more light in order to see clearly. A fifty year old person may in fact need twice as much light to see as well as a thirty year old.
Our ability to tolerate light is also affected by age, making us more susceptible to the glare of oncoming headlights. Temporary blinding caused by headlight glare slows down reflexes and increases reaction time. Even after the headlights have passed, an after-image remains on the retina that induces a blind spot. This is known as the Toxler Effect. Additionally, darkness makes it more difficult to judge distances and movement.
If you wear glasses, ask your eye care professional about anti-glare coatings for your lenses. When leaving a well-lit area such as an office before driving at night, give yourself a few minutes to adjust to the lower light outside.
Don’t drive tired
Fatigue greatly impacts a driver’s ability to concentrate and reduces reaction time. Studies show that even a short nap before driving will increase your ability to focus and react. If fatigue sets in while driving, pull off at an approved Rest Stop or other safe location to “rest and refresh” before continuing.
Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or other impairing drugs
Even though it’s against the law, drinking and driving remains a leading factor in nighttime driving incidents. Remember that just one drink can induce tiredness and impair your ability to drive safely.
If you are taking prescription medication, make sure you read the warning labels carefully to ensure that your driving abilities will not be impaired while on the medication.
Preparing Your Vehicle for Safe Nighttime Driving
In addition to standard vehicle maintenance for safe driving, such as checking fluid levels, tire pressure, etc., there are several maintenance checks that you should perform prior to getting behind the wheel at night.
- Make sure your windows are clean both inside and out
A clean windshield will greatly enhance your ability to see at night. If you smoke in your vehicle, the nicotine and carbon monoxide can create a film on your windshield that hampers night vision.
- Ensure that windshield wipers are in working condition and that washer fluids are topped off
When driving long distances at night in areas with little or no lighting, windshields will quickly become the graveyard for bugs attracted to your headlights. Wash your windshield regularly to maintain a clear line of vision. Be careful to do this on a clear stretch of road where you won’t be bothered by the cleaning process. Better yet, pull over to the side of the road or clean the windows when you stop to fill up with gas.
- Make sure vehicle lights (headlights, sidelights and taillights) are in good working order and in clean condition
Have someone walk around your vehicle before driving to check that your tail lights, brake lights, headlights and turn signals are in good working order. Dirty headlights can reduce visibility dramatically.If your headlights don’t seem bright enough, try replacing the bulb. You might consider upgrading to one of the newer Halogen-type bulbs which are known to be brighter and allow you to see further. If bulb replacement fails to resolve the issue, clean the lens covering the bulb. If you do a lot of nighttime driving, consider carrying a spare set of bulbs.
- Check that headlights are properly adjusted
Misaligned headlights not only impair your vision of the road, but can affect other drivers as well. Even when dimmed, misaligned headlights may blind oncoming motorists. If other drivers are repeatedly flashing their headlights at you when your lights are on low beam, it’s a sign they are not correctly aligned. Likewise, if you cannot see the whole road with your lights on either high or low beam, your lights are probably out of alignment. Headlight adjustment is usually a “quick fix”, and may even be offered as a courtesy service by your local mechanic.
- Consider using a day/night mirror
If your vehicle’s rear-view mirror is not equipped to adjust for day/night driving, think about purchasing and installing a day/night mirror. This type of mirror allows you to adjust the mirror for nighttime driving, and lessens some of the glare from the headlights of cars coming up from behind.
Safe Nighttime Driving Techniques
A driver’s license doesn’t automatically equip you with the ability to drive safely at night. Driving tests are taken during the day, and most states limit teen drivers to daytime driving to reduce nighttime driving accidents. Nighttime driving conditions (and the techniques for handling them) are very different than those encountered during the day.
|DO obey the speed limit and increase following distances
Drive within your vehicles headlight range and remember that speed limits are usually posted for daytime driving conditions. You should adjust your speed at night accordingly. Some states have started to post separate lower nighttime speed limits. Also remember to slow down for curves as your headlights will not automatically follow the direction of the curve. You should also increase the distance you maintain between your car and any car you are following at nighttime. Their reaction time will impact your reaction time.
DO use high beams appropriately
Always use your headlights beginning at twilight. Headlights not only help you see; they also make you visible to other drivers. When driving in low-light or unlit areas, use your high beams. Just remember to dim your headlights at least 500 feet ahead of oncoming vehicles. Similarly, you should dim your high beams when following another car.
DO pull over if cars are following too closely
If the headlight glare from a car behind you is impeding your ability to drive safely, pull over and allow that car to pass you.
|DON’T overdrive your headlights
Driving ahead of your headlights is one of the most common mistakes nighttime drivers make. Our depth perception is reduced both by light and age.
Reduce your speed on dark or rural roads. Reduce your speed when driving at night.
DON’T look directly into oncoming headlights
Reduce your speed when you notice oncoming headlights. When another car approaches, if the driver fails to lower their headlight beams or if their headlights are out of adjustment, look to the right-edge of the road to avoid headlight glare and to maintain your course. Pay attention to where the oncoming vehicle is by glancing quickly in its direction.
DON’T perform activities that will affect your concentration
Eating, drinking or using your cell phone are NEVER good ideas while driving. This is true even more so at night, when your reaction time is affected by other factors.
Following these basic suggestions for nighttime driving will make the roads safer for all who travel at night. Remember to carry a cell phone for use in the event of an emergency If you do have vehicle trouble, pull as far off the road as is safely permissible and turn your hazard lights on to warn other drivers.