Driving in Bad Weather
Night Driving

Driving at Night Safety Tips: Reduced Visibility, Fatigue & Headlights Use

Updated Nov. 16, 2020

Driving at night is considerably more difficult and dangerous than driving during the day. National Safety Council statistics show that traffic fatalities are three times more common at night than during daylight hours. To keep yourself, your passengers and other road users safe from harm, you must understand the challenges of night-time driving and know how to compensate for them.

If you must drive at night, do your best to choose familiar routes. This will give you a better chance of spotting hazards and successfully navigating the curves in the road. However, do not assume that familiarity with the road means you can be complacent. Safe night driving demands concentration, at all times!

Night driving safety tips

The National Safety Council has issued the following tips, to help drivers stay safe and avoid accidents when using the road at night.

  1. 1

    Keep distractions to a minimum.
    Make sure the road gets your full attention, by switching off the radio, ignoring your cellphone and asking passengers to let you concentrate.

  2. 2

    Make sure your vehicle is clean.
    Dirt on your windshield and mirrors can worsen the glare from other drivers’ headlights.

  3. 3

    Dim the lights on your dashboard to limit the reflection on the inside of your windshield.

  4. 4

    Make sure your headlights are correctly aligned and aimed at the road.

  5. 5

    Have regular vision tests and wear glasses if you need them.

  6. 6

    Be on the lookout for wildlife.
    Certain animals – deer, for instance – are more active immediately before dawn and after dusk.

  7. 7

    Above all else, slow down.

Low visibility

Reduced visibility is one of the main reasons that driving at night is so dangerous. Research indicates that almost 90 percent of the decisions you make while driving are based on what can be seen in your immediate surroundings. Your ability to make correct, safe decisions hinges on how well you can see.

Darkness dramatically reduces the distance at which you can see and react to approaching hazards. It also severely limits depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision. You must only drive at night when all your car’s lights are in working order and the lenses are clean, to maximize your ability to see and be seen in the dark.

Limited light is not the only factor that reduces visibility when driving at night. Glare from other driver’s headlights can also interfere with vision and even cause temporary blindness. You must know how to counteract glare, and how to avoid blinding other drivers with your own headlights.

Drivers must make sure they do not “overdrive” the reach of their headlights. Most headlights allow you to see around 350ft ahead. If you drive at a speed too fast for you to react and stop within that distance, you will not be able to avoid a collision should an obstacle appear in the road ahead. Always drive within the range of your headlights and be on the lookout for road signs, as they will be much harder to spot.

Reducing speed

You must drive more slowly at night, as limited visibility extends reaction time. The average motorist needs substantially more time to stop when driving at night than they would during the day.

Take additional care at intersections and watch out for pedestrians. Walkers, joggers, bicyclists and other pedestrians will be less visible in the dark and may not be wearing reflective clothing. Cutting back your speed will allow you more time to avoid collisions and reduce the chances that you or another person is injured, if a collision occurs.

High-beam vs low-beam headlights

Drivers should use high-beam headlights on open highways and in rural areas, unless the exceptions discussed below apply. Low-beams are only effective at speeds up to 20-25mph; at higher speeds you are at risk of “overdriving” your headlights. At speeds over 25mph, high-beams offer maximum visibility and allow drivers to see objects up to 450ft ahead of their vehicle. When driving into darkness from a well-lit area, be sure to drive slowly until your eyes have had time to adjust.

You have a responsibility not to blind other drivers with your headlights. High-beam headlights should not be used in close proximity to an oncoming vehicle, or a vehicle you are approaching from behind. Your state driver’s handbook will indicate at what distance from other road users your headlights must be dimmed, though the rules are similar across the entire U.S.

The law in California, Florida and Pennsylvania states that drivers may not use high-beam headlights within 500ft of an oncoming vehicle or 300ft of the vehicle in front. In these situations, low-beam headlights must be used instead.

Other drivers using high beams

Avoid being blinded by other vehicles by not looking directly into oncoming headlights. Instead, focus your eyes on the right edge of your lane and observe the approaching driver using your peripheral vision. While keeping your eyes averted until the driver has passed, use the edge line or the center line to guide your path of travel.

You must not retaliate against the other driver by keeping your own high-beam lights on, as you may both be blinded. However, you may briefly flash your high-beams at any driver that approaches you with theirs switched on, to warn them that they need to dip their lights.

You can reduce the glare from high-beams approaching from behind, by switching your rearview mirror to the “night” setting.

Driver fatigue

Driving when tired can be every bit as dangerous as driving when drunk. It can impair vision, motor skills, judgment and reaction time. Fatigue can be a problem when driving late at night, during times when you would usually sleep. Try to avoid this wherever possible.

Driving at night, while tired, is a lethal combination. If you absolutely must drive when experiencing fatigue, be sure to take regular breaks and get fresh air. In this situation, switching on the radio to a channel that will help you remain awake is advised.

Hazardous conditions

Driving conditions that are already hazardous become even more dangerous in the dark.  Driving at night during heavy rain, snow or through fog is not advisable. When it cannot be avoided, reduce your speed and use additional caution. If you run into trouble and have to pull over to the roadside, be sure to activate your hazard lights to make sure other drivers can see you.

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