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 6 am, especially on the weekends. Luckily, there are some things you can do to improve your safety when driving at night.
Make Sure Your Windshield is Clean
Your windshield, due to its level of exposure to the elements, easily gets dirty — from fingerprints to an unfortunate bug your wipers squashed. You’d be surprised how much grime can be accumulated over several days.
If you know you’re driving at night, ensure you clean your windshield before you leave. This means better visibility when you’re on the road.
Keep Your Interior Lights Low
There are several sources of lights inside the car — from the indicator lights on your dashboard, dash cameras, and your GPS device. Put all of those together and your car’s interior can be a dazzling array of lights.
Unfortunately, these can also become distractions very quickly. When you’re driving at night, make sure to set these at the lowest possible level.
Dimming your interior lights also minimizes reflections on your windows and windshield, which are not only distracting but make it difficult to see outside. Your eyes will adjust faster to the darkness if it isn’t too bright inside the car.
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). These can extend your view of the road from 45 meters to around 90 meters. That distance dramatically increases your visibility, which is crucial when driving at night.
That said, it doesn’t mean that you should use them all the time. High beams are best used when you’re traveling across an open or rural road.
If you encounter another vehicle from the opposite direction, dim your lights. You wouldn’t want to blind the other driver — much like you wouldn’t appreciate it if the other car kept their beams on high when they’re approaching you.
The same goes if there is a car directly in front of you. Although it’s vital to remain safe when you’re driving at night, you wouldn’t want to be a hazard to other drivers on the road. It makes the likelihood of accidents higher than it already is.
Look away from the lights!
Even if you dim your lights for oncoming traffic, don’t expect all drivers to do the same. It’s possible to encounter someone who keeps their high beam on. If this happens, don’t look directly into the lights. It will impair your night vision, even after the vehicle has passed.
Look down or to the right (the passenger side) as the other car passes you. To ensure you don’t endanger yourself, stay in your safety lane or use other lane markings. It will help you avoid veering off in a different direction.
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 an 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 are much more prevalent during the overnight hours and peaks between 1 am and 3 am (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 as 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 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 catnap 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 probably 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 “microsleep” where the driver unknowingly falls asleep for a mere second or two at a time. A microsleep 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 could very well 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 fewer 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 at 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!