January 16th, 2020 at 12:33 pm
Night driving is a challenge for many motorists particularly but not exclusively new drivers and the elderly. Data reveals that many new driver accidents occur at night and RoSPA statistics always see a rise in incidents and accidents amongst motorists, cyclists and pedestrians when the clocks go back in October.
Some new drivers and the elderly opt not to drive at night. With the black box technology, there used to be a curfew imposed on new drivers. The rules surrounding this seem to have been relaxed now by insurers but on the points scheme, insurance companies will sometimes deduct points for night driving so perhaps the curfew or penalty is still present via stealth.
Night driving may be unavoidable and many motorists dislike it particularly if it is combined with bad weather – fog, ice, sleet, snow or heavy rain – so how can you stay safer at night or when there is reduced visibility?
Why is night driving so challenging?
Put simply, the motorist loses his ability to look ahead and make judgements. The behaviour of other road users is less visible as are road conditions and hazards such as objects in the road, standing water or obstructions.
The glare from other vehicle headlights is also a particular worry for many drivers particularly if the oncoming vehicle fails to dip his beam early enough, perhaps because that driver also struggles with the lack of visibility.
Make sure your car is clean
Windows which have been obscured by dirt and detritus from the road will seem misty and less transparent – this can seriously affect your vision which is already compromised by darkness. Always make sure your side windows and front and rear windscreen are completely clear at all times even if you have to stop on your journey to do this.
Equally, headlights and sidelights can become obscured by dirt and mud meaning it is harder for people to see you. It’s also important to keep your number plates clean!
Let there be light
We all squint and curse drivers who cause unnecessary glare and blindness with inappropriate lights on their vehicle, make sure you don’t do this to other road users.
Turn on dipped headlights an hour before it gets dark or earlier if it is a very gloomy day or the sky is dark with rain clouds. Equally, keep sidelights on as it gets light in the morning as the half-light can be just as challenging to drive in as total darkness and people underestimate their own visibility.
Use your beam responsibly. If you encounter another vehicle then switching the beam off late will dazzle them and could cause an accident. LED lights are a point of controversy with many drivers reporting that their vision is affected by these. The UK government is working with other countries to review current headlight technology following numerous complaints from motorists. Manufacturers have sought to introduce brighter lights to aid in safer driving and improve driver visibility with matrix laser technology and bi-xenon bulbs. New legislation in time may restrict the power and brightness of headlights depending on the findings of the working party.
Make sure all your vehicle lights work by asking a friend or family member to check the car.
Only use your fog lights when it is actually foggy. These lights cause huge glare and are very distracting for other drivers and can affect their vision adversely.
Make sure your vision is checked regularly and that you drive with glasses if the optician’s prescription deems that you should. Some glasses can be fitted with an anti-glare reflective coating which is also useful for driving in daylight during the spring and summer when it is cloudy but there is very high glare.
There is also night driving glasses with a yellow tint which is suggested reduces the effect of white light from headlights. Some also have polarised lenses that are supposed to cut down on reflections as well without reducing the driver’s ability to perceive colour. These are not prescription glasses and can be worn by anyone and they can also fit over the top of a pair of prescription glasses. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they do help but there is currently no scientific basis for their use.
If a driver comes towards you on main beam, don’t look directly at the car as this will dazzle you momentarily and can cause panic. Position your head slightly offset and look at the white line on the left-hand side of the road. If you really can’t see, perhaps a driver has forgotten to dip his beam, then slow down gradually. Never stop abruptly as you run the risk of causing an accident with the driver behind you.
Rearview mirrors are all adjustable to reduce the glare of headlights from traffic behind you which can be very distracting. The positioning allows you to see the cars behind you and judge their distance and speed without their headlights impeding your vision.
Be more vigilant for children, cyclists and animals as they are also more vulnerable road users during the darker months. Cyclists should wear reflective clothing but some, particularly when it is still officially daylight but the light is fading, don’t realise how difficult they are to see without hi-vis. Modern vehicles are very quiet and the new electric technology quieter still so it is harder for those on foot or on bikes to know you are coming.
Don’t drive when you are tired
It sounds obvious but your vision is particularly affected by tiredness as well as your concentration and ability to respond quickly. Share a long journey with another driver or, if this is not possible, schedule regular breaks where you can get out of the car and walk around and have something to eat or drink.
Practice makes perfect
Many new drivers on the road will have specific tuition with their driving instructor to introduce them to driving safely at night. There is no age bar on this. If you feel you are struggling with night driving then book a couple of sessions with a local driving instructor who can point out ways to improve your driving and keep you safe.