More traffic accidents happen at night than in the day, and more of them are serious or fatal. Driving at night can be dangerous, yet in some places, there isn’t even a requirement for night driving to be part of driver training or covered by the driving test. You can hold a driver’s license and legally be on the road, yet have no idea how to drive in the dark. Even if you’re an experienced driver, you should periodically review these facts to keep you (and others) safe. Many of us are used to driving during the day until it becomes winter when it gets dark much earlier and the sun rises much later.
1. Your Headlights Serve Multiple Purposes When Driving At Night
Your lights are to make you visible, not just to help you see. One of the common causes of accidents in low light conditions is a driver who hasn’t turned on their lights because they can still see just fine. If there’s street lighting, or you know the road well, you could certainly see where you’re going, but other people can’t see you – at least, not soon enough to react. In addition, more and more cars have automatic headlights, but sometimes the settings are unknowingly changed and headlights need to be turned on manually. Make sure your headlights are on even if you have automatic headlights.
2. Judging Distances When Driving At Night Is More Difficult
It’s harder to judge distance at night. Your eyes have light-sensitive cells called rods and cones, which transmit information down the optic nerve to your brain. Cones work well in bright light, but in dim light, the rods take over. They’re much more sensitive – a single photon can activate them – but they can’t measure distance. It doesn’t matter how good you are at judging distances during the day, basic biology means you’ll be worse at night.
3. Judging Speed Is More Difficult When Driving At Night
This also means you can’t judge speed as well. Your brain works out the speed of an object by comparing distance over time. If you can’t accurately tell how far away something is, you can’t be sure how fast it’s going. And it’s even more difficult when you’re looking at lights against a dark background, especially when they’re coming straight towards you. This is a huge reason why driving at night is so much more dangerous.
4. It’s More Difficult To See Pedestrians When Driving At Night
Pedestrians effectively become invisible. Some pedestrians take care to wear reflective clothing when they go out at night, but many don’t. In low light all colors appear as shades of grey, so someone wearing a red coat and blue jeans will look the same colour as a green bush or brown fence. Unless they’re silhouetted against a light source, pedestrians are hard to see; if they’re standing still – for instance, when they’re about to step into the road – you might not see them at all.
5. Oncoming Headlights Can Ruin Your Night Vision
Being dazzled by another vehicle’s lights can affect your vision for up to 10 seconds. At 40 mph you will travel 500 feet in that time. Even when the other driver adjusts their lights, you could still miss a road marking or a junction. Try not to dazzle other drivers, but if you accidentally do, remember that their eyesight won’t recover immediately after you switch off your high-beams.
6. Driving At Night Is More Unpredictable
6. Every other road user has the same problems with judging speed and distance. Other vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians may behave in completely unpredictable ways because they think you’re further away or slower than you really are. This also includes vehicles following you, who may be too close if you need to brake sharply.
Driving at night can be hazardous, so make sure that you understand the dangers. Ensure you can be seen, allow extra time for your journey so that you can travel a little more slowly, remember that you’re unlikely to be accurately judging speed or distance – and nor are other road users – so allow plenty of time for braking, and if you’re dazzled, slow down until you’re sure you can see clearly again.