8 Tips for Driving Safely at Night
Did you know that nearly 90-percent of your reaction ability while driving relies on sight? And since the human eye depends on light, your ability to see decreases drastically at night. Peripheral vision, color recognition and even the ability to see and perceive distance all go down along with the sun. Plus we are all naturally less alert at nighttime. Add in the fact that you also have to contend with more drunk drivers, sleepy drivers and errant animals, and nighttime driving can easily be considered one of the most dangerous activities you can do, statistically speaking.
According to a study by Forbes, nationwide, 49% of fatal crashes happen at night, with a fatality rate per mile of travel about three times as high as daytime hours. Since we can’t just sit around waiting for the sun to come up, here are 10 tips for driving safely at night.
Don’t Drive Sleepy
Making sure you get plenty of sleep before you drive at night can make a huge difference when you get behind the wheel. In fact, prior sleep deprivation is often a reason behind drowsy driving accidents.
Sitting behind the wheel of a car for hours and hours can be exhausting. Staring down a long stretch of empty road and watching the lines in the road pass by can be hypnotic. Together, this can be a recipe for disaster. If you find yourself getting sleepy, pull off at the next well-lit exit and take a break. Get out of the car and walk around, grab a cup of coffee or a soda. Even better, find a hotel and get some sleep before continuing on your way.
Stay Alert and Sober
On top of making sure you are well-rested, you should always avoid taking medications that make you drowsy before you hit the road. And did you know that even what you eat has an impact on alertness? Eating foods that are high in carbohydrates are more likely to make you sleepy, whereas those high in protein will give you more energy.
Another way to stay alert is to have someone else in the car with you, if possible. They can help you stay awake and even share the driving duties.
Let There Be Light
Without the sun there is a lot less light for you to spot possible hazards. So it’s extremely important that you use your lights both to see and be seen. For starters, make sure both of your headlights work. If one is already out, replace them both; otherwise you’ll have one weak headlight and one brand-new bright one. This can be distracting to other drivers and even mildly disorienting to you.
How your lights are aimed is important, too. Even headlights in brand new cars can sometimes be uneven or pointed lower than necessary. It’s worth the effort to aim them correctly. While this is something that can easily done yourself using the instructions in your owner’s manual, if you’re not comfortable working on cars, take it to a licensed mechanic.
Even lights with new bulbs and perfect aim can cast a dim glow if something is blocking the light. Make sure you clean the road grime from your headlights often. And if you have an older car, use a headlight polishing kit to remove the haze so your lights shine through brightly.
Make sure both of your brake lights and all turn signals work, too. These are what give drivers behind you warning and reaction time when you need to make an emergency stop, a turn or are pulled off on the side of the road.
While most people know to turn their high beams when another car is approaching, what many don’t know is that fog lamps should be turned off for ordinary night driving. Fog lamps are a bit more effective than your regular headlights in the fog, but their intensity can hurt the eyes of other motorists if it’s a clear night.
Vehicles coming towards you with their brights or fog lights on, or with headlights at or near your eye level, can be blinding. Especially on a dark, curvy road. It helps if you can divert your gaze down and to the side, using the lane marker or painted median strip as a guide. If the person is behind you, use the nighttime reduced-glare setting on your rearview mirror to remove the glare from your eyes.
At the same time, it can be easy to become distracted and stare into a bright road sign or the headlights of an oncoming vehicle without even realizing it. Always turn your gaze away from other lights on the road, and don’t look at oncoming high beams.
While we are on the subject of light, all of those different colored lights coming from your dash can be extremely distracting and can compromise your forward vision. Use the dimmer switch to cut the brightness down once the sun goes down.
And don’t leave your map lights on, either. Less-expensive interior lights will disperse light all over the interior and shine into the driver’s eyes, too. And while many luxury cars have focused reading lights that pinpoint objects without causing glare, that light can still be distracting to you. All in all, it’s best to avoid driving with any type of interior on.
Clean Your Windshield with Newspaper
Although your windshield may appear clear and clean during the day, there may be streaks that can cause glare at night. The best way to get rid of these streaks is to polish your glass with newspaper in order to remove residue. Detailers use this trick when cleaning your car, and it really works. Also, try not to touch the inside surfaces of your windshield, side windows, back windows or mirrors with your hands. Oil from your skin will smear, and light will glare when it shines through any spots where you touched the glass. Keep a microfiber or cotton cloth in your globe box or door pocket and use it instead of your fingers to remove any mist or spots.
Clean Your Mirrors – Inside and Out
Did you know that a dirty mirror will reflect the light the from cars behind you in a wider, diffused shape that can produce glare in your eyes? Avoid this by keeping your side mirrors and your rearview mirror clean. Also, aim your exterior mirrors so that you can easily move your head out of the path of lights reflected in them. I like aim mine downward just a bit. That way, I can see cars behind me by tipping my head slightly forward, but it keeps other car’s headlights out of my eyes.
Watch for Retina Reflection
One of the biggest dangers when driving down dark, country roads are the animals – they’re everywhere! And an accidental encounter between wildlife and your car can be devastating—to you, the animal, and your vehicle. But here’s a trick you can use: many times you can spot the reflections of your headlights in an animal’s eyes long before you see the animal itself. Keep an eye out for pairs of tiny bright spots in the distance – that’s a clear indication that an animal is in front of you down the road.
So what do you do when encountering large animals such as deer? Your best bet is to slow down as quickly as possible. If you try to steer around a deer, they will often follow your headlights and move right in front of you.
Keep Your Car Properly Maintained
Regardless of whether you are driving at night or during the day, a properly maintained car plays a huge role in personal safety. Not much is worse than breaking down on the side of the road, except breaking down late at night. Keeping up with your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule can help you avoid mechanical issues that could leave you stranded in the dark. Bring your car into Patterson Ford where certified mechanics can help ensure your car is in its top running condition.
Unfortunately, when darkness falls, you take a bigger risk when getting behind the wheel. However, taking preventative measures like the ones mentioned above can dramatically boost your odds of nighttime driving survival.