Driving at night can be unavoidable especially if you have two to three working shifts in a day or if you’re rushing to the airport to catch a plane. However, there are lots of challenges that come with night driving most of which are unavoidable even to the most experienced drivers.
In fact, according to research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatal accidents usually occur more at night as compared to daytime. And why is this so? Well, the answer is simply poor visibility. You see, when driving under the cover of darkness, your eyes are not likely to see as much.
Some people will argue that their vehicle’s high/low beams are enough to provide the required illumination. Although this is correct, your eyes account for nearly 90% of your reaction time when driving. Since your depth of perception, peripheral vision and the ability to distinguish colors will be diminished when driving at night, your effectiveness to respond to hazards will be reduced immensely.
Since driving at night is sometimes unavoidable, this short guide will discuss at least ten tips you can consider when traversing dark and dangerous roads. But, before we begin, let’s first discuss the dangers of driving at night.
Why is Driving at Night Dangerous?
The amount of light you get when driving at night is usually lean as compared to what you get when driving during the day. At night, you cannot see as far and what you rely on are the headlights and the streetlights.
Secondly, your reaction time when driving at night is lowered significantly. This makes it hard for you to react in case an animal dash on the road or if you suddenly see obstacles ahead of you.
Fatigue is another major factor that makes it dangerous to drive at night. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, about 6,000 deaths and 50,000 injuries that occur on the road are caused by fatigued drivers.
Most of these drivers are shift workers who suffer from irregular sleep cycles. When you’re sleep-deprived, your attention, level of awareness, and reactionary reflexes are automatically reduced making it hard for you to focus.
Driving Under the Influence
According to the NHTSA, impaired drivers and those driving under the influence of drugs are more likely to cause fatal accidents at night. The National Safety Council proceeds to mention that most of the fatal accidents that occur on most roads usually happen during the weekends when drivers leave bars and restaurants.
With such statists, driving at night automatically becomes dangerous, as you’ll be sharing the road with drunk and reckless drivers.
In most countries, rush hour usually starts from 6 PM to around 9 PM and 4 AM to around 7 AM. During this time, everyone is in a hurry either to get to work to get home after a busy working day.
Following the stop-and-go of the heavy traffic, it’s easy to get distracted by your mobile phone. By taking your eyes off the road, it becomes easy to cause a collision.
In most cases, construction work is carried out during the night. At this time, there are heavy trucks rolling, construction workers moving around, and lots of new signs to adhere to when driving.
So, if you’re driving under the influence, or maybe you’re too fatigued to pay attention to these signs, you can easily find yourself in a hazardous situation.
10 Tips for Safe Night Driving
Now that you’ve decided to drive at night due to unavoidable circumstances, here are ten safety tips you must consider when driving under the cover of darkness.
Watch Out for Signs of Fatigue
According to the NHTSA, most of the fatal accidents that occur between midnight and 6 AM are caused by drowsy driving. You see, when driving at night, the brain produces sleep-inducing melatonin that informs the body that it’s time to fall asleep. This results in a low level of alertness that can make you lose your focus when you’re behind the wheel.
So, to avoid causing an accident, you should keep your energy levels high by pulling over to a safe area to take a rest. You can try eating, drinking water, or taking a cup of coffee to keep your brain active. In case you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can try opening the windows to get some fresh air or tune up the radio to listen to some music.
Keep the Windows and the Headlights Clean
Other than watching out for signs of fatigue, another tip you can consider when driving at night is cleaning the windows, the windshield, and the headlights before embarking on a night drive. You see, when driving in the daytime, it’s usually difficult to notice dust and dirt residue that’s accumulated on your windshield
However, this is not the case when driving at night. Since you’ll be relying heavily on the windshield and the headlights for proper illumination, a dirty windshield/headlights can reduce the amount of light you’ll be needing to view the road clearly.
In fact, if the headlights are cracked or damaged, this can create a light glare that can blind oncoming motorists creating more chances of causing accidents. So, to avoid this, you need to inspect your windows, windscreen, and headlights for any signs of damage and dirt.
Be More Defensive
When driving at night, you need to become a retina spotter. You need to be more defensive by avoiding possible collisions caused by reckless drivers, potholes, and wild animals. You see, according to the NHTSA, most accidents that occur at night are caused by intoxicated drivers or those people driving under the influence of something.
Since you’ll be sharing the road with most of these motorists, you need to be extra careful when driving. Secondly, you need to check those blind spots on the edge of the road to ensure that there are no wild animals such as deer, elk, moose, raccoons, and opossums crossing the road at that particular time.
You also need to be careful with cyclists, pedestrians, and road signs, as there’s a greater chance of failing to see them properly when driving at night.
Use Your Headlights
When driving at night, most motorists, especially new drivers, tend to forget to switch on the headlights. This happens mostly when driving on urban roads with plenty of streetlights. Remember, without the headlights, it’s pretty obvious you won’t see the road clearly. So, when driving, you need to observe this essential etiquette if you really want to avoid causing collisions.
Now, when driving at night, you’ll be switching between the high beam and the low beam. If you’re driving in a well-lit area, such as an urban road with plenty of streetlights, then you won’t need to use the high beam.
However, if you happen to drive on an extremely dark road such as a rural road or a less busy highway, then you’ll need to use the high beam to see the road more clearly. However, if you detect oncoming vehicles, or maybe you happen to drive behind another vehicle, then you need to switch to a low beam to avoid blinding oncoming traffic.
Dim Your Dashboard Lighting
Internal dashboard lighting can easily disorient your vision if you’re driving while still staring at the instruments. Since it only takes less than a second to react when things get sour, these internal lights can easily distract you and prevent you from making the right decision.
So, if you’re driving some of these newer cars that have several large infotainment LED screens, you need to find a way to dim these bright LED smart screens to improve your nighttime visibility. In fact, some motorists prefer to turn them off and only remain with the key controls that will be needed when driving.
In addition to that, you need to be careful when driving on a well-lit urban road. Since some streetlights are too bright to blind you when driving, you need to use your visors to protect your eyes from extreme glare.
Angle Your Headlights Correctly
One of the major causes of most accidents at night is misaligned headlights. Now, there are many reasons that can cause your headlights to get misaligned. One of those is a collision while the other is too much vibration that can break the plastic components that support the headlights.
If you fail to repair the headlights, what happens is that they might get angled too low or too high when driving. If the headlights are angled too low, then it will be impossible for you to see the road clearly. On the other hand, if they’re angled too high, you might end up blinding oncoming motorists even when you’re using the low beam.
So, to prevent this, you can choose to take your car to a car mechanic or auto shop to have the headlights fixed. Alternatively, you can decide to take the initiative of angling the headlights correctly by following the car’s manual.
Have Your Eyes Checked
Although we’ve discussed so many tips that can help you drive at night safely, there’s one factor that can’t be neglected—having your eyes checked. You see, when driving, especially at night, maintaining a clear vision is very important. So, if you notice you’re struggling to see clearly, then you should consider having an eye test.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are some common reasons that can cause eye strain when driving. These include nearsightedness, cataracts, retinitis pigmentosa, genetic issues, and medication. Apart from cataracts, which of course will require surgery to remove the film from your eyes, the rest of the problems will require an optometrist to prescribe a proper lens that will help you see clearly.
In case the problem is due to aging, then you’ll need to visit an optometrist at least once annually to have your eyes tested. This will allow the optometrist to update your lens each time to help correct the situation. Lastly, if you’re having eye problems, avoid wearing tinted glasses as they can make the situation worse.
Don’t Stare Directly On Oncoming Vehicles
Earlier on, we mentioned switching your headlights from low beam to high beam and vice versa when driving at night. Now, sometimes, oncoming motorists might fail to dim their headlights when approaching making it hard for you to see clearly.
In such cases, you should avoid staring directly at the oncoming lights to avoid being dazzled by their glare. One way you can avoid being blinded is by looking away on the edge of the road, especially the exterior lane markings, to guide your car to stay on track until the oncoming vehicle passes you.
Lower Your Speed and Maintain Distance
Before we even say anything more, driving too fast at night is very dangerous. The faster you drive at night, the lesser time you’ll have to react to unexpected situations. For instance, driving too fast will give you less time to read road signs, which can be dangerous if you’re driving in an unfamiliar route.
Also, if the route you’re driving on is prone to wild animals, driving too fast can make it hard for you to react in case wild animals pop on the road unexpectedly. Lastly, you need to maintain a distance of around 3 seconds between you and the vehicle ahead of you. This way, you won’t drive too closely behind other motorists which again will help you drive safely.
Sturdy the Road Ahead
One good practice of driving at night is scanning the road ahead of you. Since you’re driving under low visibility, you need to scan the road as far as you can to detect any oncoming traffic from far. If you’re alone on the road, you can switch to a high beam to see far down the road. This makes it easier for you to detect obstacles and avoid potential hazards.
If you’re trailing another vehicle, you need to be very keen on how the other driver is turning and moving the vehicle. This way, you’ll always be alert in case something unexpected happens.
As you can see, traversing the dark roads is very dangerous especially if you’re a newcomer driver. If driving at night can be avoided, then it’s best if you wait until it’s morning for yourself to drive. However, if the situation is unavoidable, then this guide has offered you 10 of the best driving tips that can help you drive safely, calmer, and more settled at night.