Driving at night presents unique challenges. Use the following precautions and guidelines to help keep you safe while driving after dark.
To ensure you have the best visibility for night driving, conduct regular maintenance to clean headlights, taillights, signal lights and windows inside and out. Dirty mirrors reflect the lights from cars behind you in a wide, diffused shape that can produce glare. Make sure headlights are properly aligned to maximize your ability to see the road. Headlights should be even with each other and not pointed too low.
Windshields that appear clean during the day may still have streaks on the interior that can cause glare at night. To eliminate glare, polish the glass with newspaper, cotton or microfiber cloth to remove residue.
The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that 90 percent of a driver’s reaction time depends on sight. Because depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision can be compromised after sundown, it is particularly important to practice proper defensive driving techniques. It is also more difficult to judge the speed of other vehicles at night, making it critical to watch your speed and leave extra distance between your car and the car in front of you. Older drivers can have even greater difficulties seeing at night. The NSC estimates that a 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year-old.
Keep your headlights on one hour before dusk and one hour after sunrise. Lights will not help you see better in early twilight, but they’ll make it easier for other drivers to see you. Being seen is as important as seeing.
Twilight is one of the most difficult times to drive, because your eyes are constantly adapting to the growing darkness. When behind another vehicle, use your low beams so you don’t blind the other driver, and dim your lights for oncoming traffic. Otherwise, use your high beams (brights) when possible, especially during clear conditions.
If an oncoming vehicle does not dim its lights, look toward the right side of the road, not directly at the oncoming headlights. If a car behind you has its high beams on, move your rearview mirror to divert the reflection away from your eyes.
At night, bright lights inside your vehicle can disrupt your concentration. Use the dashboard dimmer switch to turn down the dash brightness on the instrument panel, so you don’t compromise your forward vision. Avoid driving with the map lights on, and switch the inside rearview mirror to the night or auto-dim setting to darken the mirror and prevent glare.
One benefit of light at night is that it is often reflected in an animal’s eyes before you can see the body of the animal. If you encounter an animal, slow down as quickly as possible while still maintaining control of your vehicle, and remain in your lane by keeping the wheel straight.
Drowsiness can make it more difficult to concentrate and can slow your reaction time. To reduce the effects of eye fatigue while driving at night, ophthalmologists recommend keeping your eyes moving, scanning around your field of vision rather than focusing on one area. If your eyes become fatigued, stop to rest or take a brisk walk. Day or night, never drink and drive. Not only does alcohol impair your driving ability, it also acts as a depressant. Just one drink can promote sleepiness.
The American Optometric Association recommends eye examinations every two years for drivers between the ages of 18 and 60. Drivers older than 60 should have their eyes checked annually. If you wear prescription glasses, get lenses with an anti-reflective coating to minimize light bouncing around inside the lenses. If you are a candidate for LASIK surgery with the addition of Wavefront computer imaging, night driving performance could improve, according to the findings of a study conducted by the U.S. Navy Refractive Surgery Center.
Don’t let nighttime driving intimidate you. With proper preparation and defensive driving techniques, you can safely travel wherever you need to go.
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