Driving at night is just that little bit more difficult than driving during the day. In fact, it has been shown through the use of road casualty statistics and figures that a huge 40% of all collisions occur when it is dark outside. Given that the roads are actually far quieter at these times, that’s a large proportion of all total collisions that occur during the hours of darkness.
By learning how to drive far more safely when it is night time, we are therefore reducing our chances of being involved in a collision by a huge amount. This is particularly true if you are a novice driver or have just started out on the roads. It has been seen that new drivers feel particularly inexperienced when driving a car in the hours of darkness.
In this guide, we look at 9 simple ways to improve your road safety at night. Some may seem obvious, but it is so often these obvious points that are the ones most easily and most quickly forgotten by road users. By reminding ourselves of these 9 essential tips for safe driving at night, we therefore are not only making ourselves safer, but we are improving the safety of others on the road too – be they drivers, pedestrians or passengers. Our tips are mainly based around raising awareness of the risks that come with night time driving and how to circumvent them.
1. Use Your Headlights
Using your headlights at all times is actually very good common practice, but it is essential at night. However, if you get into the habit of using them during the day as well, then you are well placed to use them at night as a matter of course. If you don’t want to use your headlights during the day, try to remember to put them on an hour before the Sun goes down or an hour before dusk.
Ultimately, putting your headlights on at this time is not actually for your benefit as you will be able to see most things still with the falling Sun. Putting your headlights on at this time is actually to make you far more visible to other drivers on the road, thus making yourself safer as well as those around you and your passengers. This is because you are less likely to cause an accident by a car not being able to see you in good enough time to prevent a collision or any other form of roadside accident.
This is why it is a good idea to get into the habit of using your headlights during the day as light can actually fail far earlier than before sunset. For instance, during a thunderstorm, it can be exceptionally dark and you can therefore be that much more difficult to see by your fellow road users. By using your headlights at all times, you are far more visible and are therefore doing your bit to make the roads safer as a whole.
That being said, remember not to use your high beams on full at all times as this can be dangerous as well given the fact that you will be shining your headlights directly into the eyes of oncoming drivers.
2. Keep A Good Distance From The Person In Front
So many of us are guilty of driving far too close to the car in front of us at the best of times, let alone in the dark. Tailgating is a huge issue on our roads with drivers who are far too aggressive and always in a rush so forgetting to maintain a safe distance from the car in front.
At night, we should back off even more as in doing so we are allowing for the fact that the person in front of us will have slower reaction times in the dark, as we all do. It means that we have that little bit more distance to react in ourselves so that we can hopefully avoid collisions and other accidents with driving that is that little bit more cautious.
Plus, by driving a good distance from the car in front of you, you are also not pressurizing the driver in that car. How many times have you felt under pressure when a car drives far too close to you – whatever the lighting conditions? This is made worse in the dark as the night time glare that your headlights will cause in the front car’s mirror can be a huge distraction for the driver. It can therefore make even the best drivers nervous thus causing them to make quicker decisions on the road, that may not necessarily be the best ones. Driving too close to a car at night can severely hamper a driver’s visibility which is the last thing that any one on the road wants to deal with.
Driving that little bit further back also improves your vision and visibility at night too. Any problems, like debris or potholes in the road, are far more difficult to see if you are driving close to the car in front. By hanging back that little bit more, you are giving yourself that much more time to react to anything you need to avoid on the tarmac.
3. Stay Alert At All Times
This may sound painstakingly obvious, but one of the best things that drivers can do at night is to stay alert to things going on around them and not fall into a zombie like, automatic pilot state. It is so easy to do, especially when on roads that you know well and have driven along hundreds and hundreds of times.
So don’t forget some of the basics of your road safety training. Remember to watch out for lights as well as movement and don’t forget to keep looking in your mirrors. This way you will be alert at all times for other cars as well as cyclists, pedestrians and any other traffic around you. For instance, animals are particularly hard to see at night on the side of the road and during dusk hours, there may even be children playing on the street still that drivers need to be aware of.
Checking your mirrors regularly also means that you are giving yourself as much time to react to an issue as possible. It is one of the key lessons to be learnt and means you can take measures when necessary if other drivers on the road are making mistakes.
Bearing all this in mind, ensure that your mirrors are clean and free from any debris so that you have as much visibility as possible. If they are clean, you won’t have to suffer as much from night time glare either.
4. General Car Maintenance Still Stands at Night
It is even more vital at night, as briefly touched upon above, to take care of your car and its maintenance. This means that you need to keep your headlights clean as well as your mirrors. You also need to ensure that your headlights are pointing in the correct direction for the country you are driving in, as well as making sure that your headlights are fully functioning. So often, people driver around illegally with only one headlight working. Having two will ultimately improve your visibility of the road and your visibility to other drivers. Plus, by having two working at the start of your trip means that should one unfortunately blow while you are out and about, you still have one to rely on to get you back home or to a safe place where you can fix the blown bulb.
At the same time as continuing good, regular maintenance of your car and its headlamps, ensure that your fog headlights are in good order too. Ensure, as well, that your rear lights are all working as well as your front ones. Having them working is to help the drivers around you on the road to vastly improve your visibility.
5. Don’t Drive Tired
Driving at night invariably means that it is quite late in the day when we are all starting to flag and feel a little bit more tired. This immediately makes driving that little bit more dangerous even if you are commuting home from your regular day at work on roads you know well. The time of day sill means you are that little bit less alert. Plus, the dark immediately and instinctively makes us more tired and drowsy as when the Sun is down our body tells us it is time to wind down and think about having a sleep.
Bearing this in mind, plan trips if possible around the fact that you will inevitably not be the most alert you can be for any journeys if those journeys are in the dark. Some drivers may choose to drive at night time for long haul journeys anyway as arguably the roads are that much quieter and will more likely be clear from traffic jams. Night time driving can also provide a cooler environment to drive in too in the hotter Summer months, so there are definitely benefits to completing long journeys in the quieter, darker hours, but it is obviously also good to aware of the risks too.
Falling asleep while driving is one of the key factors that causes collisions. In fact, in the UK alone, 20% of all serious road accidents occur from someone falling asleep at the wheel. Obviously, tiredness can be fatal at any time of day, but it is obviously more of a problem at night. Bearing this in mind, if you do want to drive on quieter roads for longer haul journeys, do so as early on in the night as possible. After rush hour is a good time as is starting journeys when the sun is just setting so that the slow falling of the dark means that drivers’ eyes, mind and body can slowly adjust to the settings.
Above all, be honest with yourself. If you feel drowsy, is it really worth the risk getting out on to the roads to finish any journey – long or short? If necessary, when out on the road, take a break at a safe juncture like a service station and have a nap as well as a caffeinated drink. Sleep is the best cure for drowsiness so do take as long as needed for that nap as possible. Plus, if you are planning to drive a long journey in night time hours, factor in those much needed breaks too. That way, you are more likely to take them when needed so that you end up at your destination safely. Having a break every two hours is good practice.
6. Watch Your Speed
It can be tempting when driving on quieter roads at night to drive that little bit too fast. However, we should all endeavour to actually drive that little bit slower than we would do ordinarily. This is to give us that extra bit of time to react that is also the reason as to why we should give the driver in front a little bit more room on the road than we would do in the day.
Giving yourself time to react by dropping your speed means that you improve the safety of those around you with particular reference to vulnerable road users like cyclists or even pedestrians. While pedestrians should be walking on the pavement or sidewalk, you can never be too careful so drop that speed to be able to react in time to any strange occurrences. The same is for cyclists that share the road, especially ones that are cycling without reflectors or lights.
Finally, reducing your speed is also a good idea when you are driving from a bright sunny area into a dark area as your eyes need some time to adjust to the new lighting circumstances. Bear this in mind when driving through dense forests, into a car park or or on very sunny days.
7. Make Sure Your Windows Are in The Best Condition
It can be so easy to do, but driving in a dirty car is not only detrimental to your car’s paint job, it is also detrimental to you and your fellow road users. This is because dirty cars mean that you have dirty windows and dirty windows mean that you have to deal with far more night time glare than you would do otherwise. This causes a much bigger distraction than you would ordinarily have to deal with and therefore makes you far more likely to make a mistake while out on the road. Dirty windows are also more likely to steam up meaning that you have to try to sort that issue whilst out on the road which is not only time consuming, it is another distraction that you would otherwise not have to deal with and could be keeping your eyes on the road for any dangers.
8. Take the Time to Practice
If you are a nervous road user at night, try to take the time to practice on the roads in the hours of darkness. Doing so little and often will actually help you by upping your experience and increasing your confidence as a result. There are several ways you can do this. You can go out on your own and drive on roads that you know fairly well during the day with several types of junctions, road markings and lighting systems so that you get used to dealing with situations where you need to make a decision. Or you can go out with a far more experienced driver who will guide you and remind you as to the basics of all good night time driving.
9. Tilt Your Mirror
This is a small tip, but it can make a big difference. To stop yourself from being dazzled and therefore distracted on the road, if not almost blinded, it’s a good idea to change the angle of your mirror when you get into your car at night. This means you will prevent yourself from having lights shone into your eyes from behind. Additionally, it is a good tip never to look into the headlights of other cars directly. In doing so, you will make it difficult for your eyes to adjust to what is actually going on around you which is what you need to stay safe on the road.
Bearing that in mind, take the needs of other drivers into consideration and dip your beam if you spot another car coming and you have your headlights on full. On country lanes and roads, drivers definitely need to use a full beam, but simply need to remember to dip them for any oncoming traffic. It helps keep everyone that little bit safer.