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Safety tips for driving in the dark

A car at the coastAs the nights draw in, more of us have to drive in the dark. Here are some tips to keep you safe.

Be careful out there

There's no doubt that driving at night is more dangerous. A Department for Transport study revealed that although only 15 per cent of vehicle miles are clocked between 7pm and 7am, they account for almost a third of road injuries and deaths. This is because of reduced visibility and increased difficulty in judging speed and distance. Another factor is that late at night there are more drivers on the road under the influence of drink or drugs. It's important to be aware that other road users may behave erratically and to give them more space. Watch out for pedestrians, especially near pubs and clubs around closing time. Also allow more time for your own journey so you're not driving under pressure.

The eyes have it

It's vital to have your sight checked regularly as this will show up any underlying eye problems such as glaucoma that may affect your night vision. Never wear dark or tinted lenses for night driving.

Lighten Up

The Institute of Advanced Motorists advises turning your headlights on before sunset and keeping them on for an hour after sunrise so it's easier for other drivers to see you in twilight. Make sure all your exterior lights are clean and working properly and keep your interior lights turned off. And although it's always important to make sure you can stop within the distance you can see to be clear, after dark this is especially the case.

Don't dazzle

On rural roads, drive on full beam whenever possible but dip your lights when faced with another road user to avoid dazzling them. “And if you're dazzled by an oncoming car then avoid looking at the headlights,' urges driving instructor Colin Baker. “Keep your attention on the left-hand kerb and try to keep your speed steady. Avoid driving along at 50mph, dropping to 40mph when there's oncoming traffic and then speeding up again. It makes it very confusing for drivers travelling behind you. It's better to aim for a speed you can maintain such as 45mph and sticking to it, even if there are times you could go faster.”

Windows on the world

Make sure your car windows are clean, inside and out. Dirty windows will increase glare from other vehicles and are more prone to steaming up.

Study the road ahead

Read the road ahead for signs of oncoming drivers – glimmers of light at the top of hills and at bends could be the headlights of other vehicles, giving you prior warning. And watch out for pedestrians and cyclists – after dark they can be more difficult to spot, especially if they're not wearing reflective clothing.

Take regular breaks

It's always advisable to take regular breaks when driving long distances, but this is even more vital when you're driving overnight. Stop for a rest at least every two hours and drink strong coffee to keep yourself alert.

Extra training

Many of us will have taken all our driving lessons and passed our test during daylight hours. This means we've never had the opportunity to be advised by an experienced driving instructor on how to drive after dark. If you don't feel confident driving at night, booking a lesson with a driving instructor who can give you some tips would be an excellent idea. You might even be able to get a two hour session free of charge: the AA Charitable Trust is offering 2,000 free courses as part of its 'Drive Confident' scheme. Full details and application form can be found here. 


Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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