Some motorists spend a great deal of time driving on the road in darkness, and yet many are unaware of the special hazards night driving presents, or don't know effective ways to deal with them.
A major difference between day and night driving is the crash rate. “About 168 million people say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, and more than one-third, (37% or 103 million people), have actually fallen asleep at the wheel” according to the National Sleep Foundation. It’s no surprise that the night driving accident rate is roughly three times that of daylight driving. The cause of the decreased vision varies. At night, the driver's normally wide field of vision is narrowed to the field of view illuminated by the driver’s headlights, the headlights of other vehicles, and fixed road lights. Depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision may be compromised after sundown.
Tips for blinding glare from oncoming headlights
One of the most dangerous aspects of night driving is one that we can do little to control: blinding glare from oncoming headlights. Research has been conducted on the problems of glare and night vision that have concluded: When your eyes are hit by a bright beam of light from an oncoming car, you may be distracted.
- Drivers can be affected by the oncoming glare of headlights as far as 3,000 feet away. If you feel you won't be able to see after a car approaching you has passed, slow down and try not to look directly at those headlights. Looking at the right side of the road may be effective.
- Bright color and high contrast make objects visible at night. That's why it's a good idea to have some reflecting tape somewhere on your car, especially if the car is a dark color.
- Good night visibility is more than just having a set of lights mounted on your vehicle. The alignment of those lights is equally important. You can have the best headlight system in the world, but if those lights point off in different directions, they're not going to do much good. Tests can be performed to see if the lights on your vehicle are aligned properly.
- It's important as well to keep headlights clean. As much as half of a headlight's total output can be absorbed by dirt on the light's surface. Keeping headlights clean is especially important in winter, when they're frequently covered with road dirt and encrusted with salt.
- Likewise, a clean windshield is vital for driving whether it’s day or night. Streaks and smears on windshields can produce extremely disorienting kaleidoscopic effects when lights shine on them at night. Make sure your windshield washers work, that your windshield wiper blades are clean and not old and worn out, and that the windshield wiper fluid container is kept filled.
- Most headlights can’t see around corners. Those headlights only allow you to see where the car is pointing. Some newer cars are coming with adaptive headlights. These headlights turn the direction of your tires with the steering wheel and allow you to see more of where you are going around a turn.
Additional tips to help minimize the hazards of night driving:
- Adjust your speed to the range of your headlights. High beam headlights in good working order illuminate the road for about 300 feet ahead. Use low beams for a much shorter distance.
- Keep your eyes moving. Don't fall for the temptation of focusing on the middle of the lighted area in front of you. Search the edges of the lighted area. Look for other patches of light that could be cars. Look for them at hilltops, on curves or at intersections. Where there are many distracting neon signs or brightly lit buildings, try to concentrate on street-level activities.
- Protect your eyes from glare. Prolonged exposure to glare from sunlight during the day or headlights at night can temporarily ruin your night vision, while also leading to eyestrain and drowsiness. Wear good sunglasses on bright days, and take them off as soon as the sun goes down.
- Use your lights wisely. Use high beams when possible. Switch to low beams when following another car or encountering oncoming cars.