More traffic accidents happen at night than in the day, and more of them are serious or fatal.
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.
6 Facts You Should Know for Safer Driving at Night
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.
Why is this the Most Dangerous Time to Drive?
The risks involved in driving at night become more pronounced because of several factors. The main reason, of course, is poor visibility.
Even with high-beam headlights on, the most that you can see is limited to about 500 feet. This even lessens in normal headlights with only up to 250 feet of clear visibility. If we factor in the age of the driver, you’ll have greater difficulty seeing at night as you age.
Fatigue also, in most cases, kicks in at night. It’s the end of the day, and you’re probably worn out after a hectic work shift, or feeling tired after completing your daily tasks. When fatigue and sleepiness go together, drowsy driving puts everyone on the road at risk, not just the sleepy driver.
This time of the day is also when rush hour usually peaks, so it’s no wonder if the roads become more dangerous due to crowded roadways. Most drivers are eager to get home after work, encouraging aggressive driving behaviors.
Although it is not always the case, drunk drivers also end up driving at night – after drinking hours end and they have no one else to drive them home. We all know how dangerous drunk drivers are. No matter how much we follow the rules, you may get into an accident if you come across one of them.
It’s good to note though that according to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle crash-related deaths have decreased for the third consecutive year, with 39,107 deaths in 2019. Even so, 50% of traffic deaths happen at night.
It doesn’t matter whether the road is familiar or not, driving at night is always more dangerous. But if you take some extra precautions, you can always contribute to reducing these numbers.