Tips For Driving at Night
Driving at night is the most dangerous time to drive, no matter what weather condition is present. The most dangerous time to drive on any roadway is between the hours of midnight and 6am, especially on the weekends. Luckily, there are some things you can do to improve your safety when driving at night.
Don't Overdrive Your Headlights
Most speed limits are set for driving during the day in dry, clear conditions - not for driving at night. Your headlights should illuminate the road ahead of you for approximately 4 seconds of headway. If you have poor headlights or you aren't getting at least a 4 second headway, it's best to slow down.
Use High Beam Headlights Wherever Possible
Make sure you utilize your high beam headlights (brights). High beams should be used as often as possible, especially during clear conditions. During adverse weather, use your best judgment. Just don't forget they are on! Be sure to dim your lights for oncoming traffic. The last thing you want to do is blind an oncoming driver, increasing the risk of a head-on collision. If an oncoming vehicle fails to dim their high beams, it's ok to flash your lights to try and remind them, but don't leave your high beams on in spite or to "get back" at the oncoming driver. Again, blinding the driver only increases the chance of a traffic accident. If an oncoming vehicle does not dim their lights, look towards the right side of the road and try not to look directly at the oncoming headlights, rather, use your peripheral vision.
Look away from the lights!
Make sure you don't stare directly at oncoming headlights. If you can safely do so, look towards the right shoulder as the vehicle approaches. Staring at the headlights will impair your night vision, even after the vehicle has passed.
Educational Video About Driving At Night
Watch For Wildlife
Obviously animals (and humans!) are harder to see when driving at night. But some animals are also more active during the twilight hours. Thousands of people are injured and many deaths occur when people either strike or try to avoid striking an animal. It is almost always better to hit an animal in the roadway, rather than trying to swerve to avoid it. It will certainly do damage to your vehicle, and nobody wants to hurt an animal (especially if it's a pet), but swerving is no guarantee that you'll miss the animal, and creates a much more dangerous situation for everyone. Hold your lane, keep the wheel straight, and apply the brakes as firmly as possible while still maintaining control.
After striking the animal, it's best to pull over as soon as you can safely do so. Check for damage and call your insurance company. Insurance companies are usually a bit suspicious of claims on animal strikes, because the evidence is long gone when the driver reports it. To avoid any issues with your insurance company, call them from the scene of the accident. They may or may not want you to call the police to file a police report. In order to cover yourself, it's best to report any accident with an animal to your insurance company from the scene of the accident or call the police so you can document it. It's just another reason you shouldn't swerve to miss an animal. If you end up crashing and the animal runs off, it's very hard for you to prove why you crashed.
Dealing With Drunk Drivers
Obviously, a big reason for the added danger when driving at night is that you're forced to share the road with drunk drivers. Drinking and driving is much more prevalent during the overnight hours and peaks between 1am and 3am (most bars close at this time, and most parties are winding down as well).
Many people think drunk drivers are easy to spot, but most drunk drivers aren't swerving all over the road like you might think. It could be very difficult to distinguish a distracted driver or fatigued driver from a drunk driver. The problem is, many drunk drivers who appear to be driving normally, are at an extremely high risk of missing a stop sign, red light, or swerving into an oncoming lane unexpectedly. In most drunk driving related accidents, the victim had no indication there was a problem until it was too late. A large number of drunk drivers are at risk of falling asleep at the wheel, too.
Minimizing Your Risk From Drunk Drivers
- Be extra cautious at all intersections driving at night. Make sure you are looking both ways at intersections, even if you have a green light. Make sure nobody is going to run that stop sign! If you have been sitting at a red light and it just changed to green, look both ways...this is very important! Most people know that reaction time for drunk drivers is vastly decreased, so the chances of them running a light soon after it changes to red is quite likely. Look both ways, then proceed. If any oncoming vehicles are in the left turn lane, make sure they aren't going to turn in front of you. Slow down and leave yourself an out in case they cut you off
- On multi lane roadways such as expressways and highways, it's always best to use the far right lane whenever possible. Many times, drunk drivers will unknowingly drive on the wrong side of the divider or median. They most often drive in what they believe is the right lane, which would be your left lane. To help avoid a head on collision, try to keep right whenever possible.
- Don't blind them! Driving at night, many drunk drivers will turn on their high beam headlights, and forget to dim them for oncoming traffic. This is extremely common among drunk drivers. It's ok to quickly flash your high beams to alert them, but don't turn your high beam lights on out of spite. It may blind them, further increasing the risk of a head on collision. Drunk drivers have a habit of driving towards bright lights while driving at night.
- Practice proper defensive driving techniques, but be even extra diligent about it. Driving at night poses many more challenges than day driving. Leave more room than necessary. Be extra aware of your speed and make sure you have good visibility, including having well functioning windshield wipers when you're driving in the rain. The chances that something "unexpected" will occur skyrockets at night, both from sober and drunk drivers making unexpected maneuvers.
Fatigued Drivers Are Dangerous Too!
Fatigued driving has some of the same effects as drunk driving and is most prevalent driving at night. Many drunk drivers are also fatigued drivers. Not only is their driving risky, but driver fatigue is the cause of many fatal accidents either due to the driver falling asleep, or due to the negative effects of fatigue.
If you find yourself becoming fatigued, get off the road. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to quickly become a safe driver once fatigue has struck. Many people believe caffeine helps, and it might, but there is no sound proof that caffeine reduces the driving risk of a fatigued driver. The best option is to find a place to pull off the road, such as a gas station or rest area, and walk around. Stretch your legs, get some air, and re-evaluate if you can continue.
Don't be afraid to take a quick 20 minute cat nap either. Getting just 20 or 30 minutes of sleep can have remarkable effects on fatigue and is much more effective than any caffeine product. Bottom line, if you're tired, you need to sleep. Most people think they can "handle it" or go "just a few more miles" yet, there are approximately 71,000 injuries and almost 6,000 deaths per year in the United States attributed to fatigued driving, the vast majority of which occur while driving at night. These numbers are likely understated, as most people don't ever actually admit to falling asleep at the wheel. Many people don't even know they fell asleep due to a type of sleep called "micro sleep" where the driver unknowingly falls asleep for a mere second or two at a time. A micro sleep is virtually undetectable by a fatigued driver. It's also very difficult to obtain proof that a motorist fell asleep while driving. If you feel sleepy and continue to drive, you very well could make it to your destination. But it's a gamble. You are putting your own life, as well as the lives of everyone around you at risk. Is it really worth it? Best advice, take a nap.
Driving At Night Is The Most Dangerous Time To Drive
Remember, driving at night is the most dangerous time to be on the roadways. Many drivers think it's safer since far less vehicles are on the road, but still, driving at night remains the most dangerous time to be driving. Part of the reason driving at night is so dangerous is because you can't control the drivers around you. Quite simply, people do more dumb things at night than any other time of the day. If you are driving on a Friday or Saturday night, you are in even worse shape. Clear all intersections and drive safe!
Drunk Driving Happens During The Day, Too
While drunk driving mostly occurs during nighttime hours, there is another time of the day when drunk drivers are out in force - early mornings. Yes, in the early morning, many people wake up from a long and late night of drinking. They assume that since they've slept, they are not over the legal limit anymore. Unfortunately that's just not the case. So if you're out for a pleasant and relaxing sunday morning drive, you better drive as if you are driving at night!
Written By: Mike Rogers