There are two main difficulties with staying alert while driving at night. Firstly, it’s dark. Secondly, you’re likely to be sleepy and lower on concentration, and so are the other drivers!
As a result, driving at night is more dangerous than many people think. But there are steps you can take to increase your driving skills at night. The last thing you want is to have to make a claim on your car insurance.
Darkness can seriously affect driving conditions. Research from the Vision Impact Institute says that more than 90% of decisions made behind the wheel depend on good vision, and vision is severely limited at night. Depth perception, colour recognition and peripheral vision are all compromised after the sun goes down.
In addition, older drivers have even greater difficulties seeing at night. In reality, a 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year-old.
Another factor adding danger to night driving is fatigue. Drowsiness makes driving more difficult by dulling concentration and slowing down your reaction time.
If you add alcohol into the mix, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The main rule of thumb is don’t drink and drive at all. Alcohol severely impairs your driving ability and also acts as a depressant, so just one drink can induce fatigue.
As a result, weekend nights are more dangerous, as more people are likely to be out driving after drinking or driving when tired.
Fortunately, there are several effective things you can do to reduce the after-dark visibility hazards by preparing your car and yourself for driving at night.
Prep your car
Prepare your car for night driving by cleaning your headlights, back lights, signal lights and windows, both inside and out, once a week, and more often if necessary.
See the light
Always turn on your headlights if you're in any doubt about evening or night visibility. Although lights won’t help you see better in early twilight, they will make it easier for other drivers and pedestrians to see you. Being seen is as important as seeing. But make sure you’re using the appropriate beam remembering that full beams could blind other drivers.
Make sure your headlights are properly aimed – many are set too high. This can blind other drivers as they approach you, and reduce your ability to see the road.
Hold your course
If an oncoming vehicle doesn’t lower its beam from high to low, avoid the glare of the lights by watching the left edge of the road, and using it as a steering guide. That way you’ll stay on track.
Drop your speed
Reduce your speed and increase your following distances. It's more difficult to judge other vehicles’ speeds and distances at night.
Avoid smoking before you drive at night, because nicotine and carbon monoxide hamper night vision.
Grab some rest
Finally, make frequent stops for light snacks and exercise if you’re driving through the night. If you're too tired to drive, stop and get some rest. It’s even worth shutting your eyes for a power nap – but make sure you’re somewhere safe! This may mean you have to leave the motorway and find a service station or even a town. Never be tempted to snooze on the hard shoulder.