We all know how frustrating it is when we’re driving after dark and get blinded by someone’s high beams, but being on the roads at night is more than just annoying — it’s dangerous.
Around 40% of all collisions occur during darkness, and nearly 20% of serious accidents are caused by a driver falling asleep behind the wheel. In fact, the National Safety Council says the risk of getting into a fatal crash triples once the sun sets. Why is this? At night your depth perception, peripheral vision, and ability to distinguish color are all decreased. This makes it harder to stay alert.
It’s not always practical to avoid driving once the sun sets, so we’re offering six tips to help you stay safe even after darkness covers the roads.
1. Check your headlights.
Many headlights, even in new cars, are uneven or pointed too low. Properly aiming the beams will maximize your nighttime visibility, and best of all? It can be done by following simple instructions in your owner’s manual. Typical low beams illuminate the road 150-250 feet in front of you, and high beams shine about 350-500 feet. At 60 miles per hour, it takes roughly 200 feet to stop — so use your brights when possible to make sure you can see obstacles in time to brake for them.
Finally, always be sure to dim your headlights before passing oncoming traffic so that you don’t blind your fellow drivers.
2. Keep your windows clean.
Glare, which is amplified by streaks of dirt and grime on your windows, makes it hard to see details like upcoming stop signs or the reflection in an animal’s eyes. Some glare is unavoidable at night, but keeping both the inside and outside of your windows clean can minimize its effects as much as possible.
3. Drive (even more) defensively.
Give your fellow drivers some extra space at night. Tailgating is never safe, but at night your headlights have a high potential to distract the driver in front of you. The decreased visibility also makes it hard for you to see upcoming obstacles and gauge depth, so it’s a good practice to work in some stoppage room. This will also help prepare you for when drivers make unpredictable moves, brake suddenly, or have missing headlights. Don’t get complacent on the road — always practice caution.
4. Reduce your speed.
This may sound obvious, but slowing down at night will decrease your chances of getting in a collision. It can be difficult to see what’s ahead of you at night, so just a few miles per hour less can give you enough time to avoid an unexpected object in front of you.
5. Give yourself extra time.
Driving under time pressure is dangerous even in broad daylight. Try to plan a few extra minutes into your trip when traveling at night so you can move cautiously without worrying about being late.
6. Dim your dashboard lights.
Too much light inside your car casts distracting reflections on the windshield and prevents your eyes from properly adjusting to the darkness. If possible, dim your dashboard lights and avoid looking at GPS, radio screens and, of course, your phone screen so you can maintain focus on the road.
7. Watch for glowing eyes.
Animals are everywhere — especially in Wisconsin and especially at night! You can often see an animal’s eyes reflecting your headlights well before you see the actual animal. Keep a lookout for pairs of moving eyes on and around the road. If you do see them, slow down and stay attentive.
8. Go to the eye doctor.
Our natural ability to see at night can vary from person to person. While many of us wear contacts or glasses, others remain oblivious to sight impairments — but even subtle reductions in vision can affect your ability to stay safe on the road. If you feel you have trouble driving at night, see an eye doctor immediately. Your optometrist can help provide you with the correct prescription of lenses to get you safely back on the road!
9. Take breaks.
One of the biggest problems with nighttime driving is the tendency to feel tired. If you know you’ll be making a trip during late hours, plan time for frequent breaks to get out and stretch. Short walks, light snacks and singing to the radio are all great ways to stay awake. If none of these attempts work to keep you alert, it’s best to pull off the road and get some rest. Never push yourself past the point of staying focused.