Driving at night is actually more dangerous. Fatal accidents
are three times more likely at night compared with the daytime, according to
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The main reason for this not surprisingly is that we can’t
see as well in the dark, says Alex Epstein, director of transportation safety
at the National Safety Council: “You see less of the road ahead of you and have
less room and time to stop.” Ironically, some kinds of light like the glare
from too-bright lights can compound the problem.
But other factors add to the challenge of driving at night.
Here are 12 tips that could help reduce the risk.
1. Be Extra Defensive
Drinking and driving poses a bigger risk after dark,
according to NHTSA, which has found that the rate of fatal crashes involving
alcohol impairment is almost four times higher at night than during the day. Of
course, never get behind the wheel after drinking, no matter what time of day
it is (don’t drive while distracted either); but at night, it’s a good idea to
put your defensive-driving instincts on high alert.
2. Combat Fatigue
Side view of young man with eyeglasses sitting inside of his
car and yawning. One hand on mouth. Bright lights at background. Drowsy driving
crashes are most likely to happen between midnight and 6 a.m., says NHTSA. So
be aware during these hours that there may be sleepy drivers on the road and
keep yourself alert. Have some caffeine, pull over in a safe area to get some
rest, or stop for the night. Some drivers have reported other activities that
can help: turning the radio on (not too loudly); rolling down the windows
periodically for fresh air; and talking or singing to yourself.
3. Clean Up Your View
Dirty or damaged windshields can scatter light and
potentially increase the effects of glare, according to NHTSA. The group also
reports that dirty or damaged headlights can decrease your visibility and cast
glare onto oncoming drivers. So clean headlights and windshields regularly; you
can use a special cleaning kit for headlights.
4. Avoid Two-Lane Highways
NHTSA says two-lane highways may be a “worst-case scenario”
for night time glare, due to oncoming cars’ headlights, lower overall light,
and the fact that these roads tend to have more sharp curves and hills than a
freeway. If you can, take a safer route at night.
5. Slow Down
Speeding-related crashes account for 37 percent of night time-driving
fatalities, says NHTSA compared with 21 percent of those during daylight
hours due to lower visibility and shorter reaction times. For example, your
headlight typically shines 160 feet in front of you, but even at 40 mph, you
need 190 feet to stop. Adjust your speed to take conditions like visibility
into account, says Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
6. Angle Your Headlights Correctly
If the beams tilt down too much, you’ll lose some of the
illumination you need while driving. But if they tilt too high, they can blind
oncoming drivers. Some states’ annual inspection tests include checking the
headlight angle but otherwise, take the initiative to make sure yours are
pointed correctly. “This isn’t usually a DIY project,” says Rader. “Consumers
should go to their car dealer or a repair facility for assistance.”
7. Use High Beams When Appropriate
High beams are underutilized, says Rader, but can be very
helpful in rural areas or on open roads. Just remember to dim them when you’re
within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle (so you don’t temporarily blind the
other driver), and don’t use them if you’re following another vehicle. If
you’re in the market for a new car, Rader recommends looking for adaptive
lighting systems that automatically adjust your high beams depending on the
presence of other cars.
8. Tweak Your Inside Lighting
If your dashboard lights are too bright, glancing from the
dashboard to the dark road ahead can be disorienting, says the NSC’s Epstein.
“Dim the interior lights at night, so that critical controls remain easily
visible but not distracting,” he recommends. “And use your visors at night to
shield you from outdoor street lighting and glare.” Many new cars, he adds,
have mirrors that automatically dim the reflections from bright light.
9. Look In The Right Direction
While you should always keep your eyes on the road, avoid a
fixed gaze and never stare at oncoming headlights, says Epstein. When
approaching an oncoming vehicle, avoid being blinded by its headlights by
shifting your eyes down and to the right, using the right edge of the road or
lane markings as a guide to stay on track. Lift your gaze back up when you’ve
passed the oncoming vehicle.
10. Watch For Wildlife
Illustration of a deer in front of a car. Collisions with
deer often happen at dusk or at night and are more common from October to
January. Your high beams can help you spot an animal’s glowing eyes. When you
see them, the safest way to avoid an accident is by slowing down and
stopping not by swerving.
11. Take Care Of Your Eyes
Get your vision checked every year, suggests the NSC; glare
becomes more problematic for people as they age. You may also need a different
prescription at night.
12. Test And Use Your Lights
Regularly test all your lights, including low beams, high
beams, daytime running lights, turn signals and brake lights. And make sure to
use your headlights to stay visible; not only do you need to turn them on when
it’s dark, but you should turn them on in adverse weather conditions like rain,
snow and hail.