Driving at night isn’t easy. In fact, it can even be unnerving for those with plenty of experience behind the wheel.
Roads will seem completely different in the dark.
Vision is reduced considerably and there is the potential to feel drowsy.
Glare from the headlights of other cars is a particular problem.
This can be distracting, uncomfortable and could potentially cause a crash.
Causes of accidents
Fatigue was a contributory factor in at least 1,528 crashes in 2018 – and 62 resulted in fatalities, according to Government statistics.
The data also revealed defective lights or indicators were a factor in 139 accidents, while other factors such as sudden braking can also be caused by the dark.
Meanwhile, one of the most common times to fall asleep at the wheel is between 2am and 6am, according to Brake, the road safety charity.
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Eyes take a while to adjust
The distance a driver can see is shortened and hazards can seem to appear out of nowhere, according to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents(ROSPA).
“It also takes time for the eyes to adjust to the darkness after being in a lit building or after driving on a well-lit road,” it warns.
This can be a particular problem for older road users, points out ROSPA.
“As we grow older, our eyes become less able to react quickly to changes in light and we can have difficulty with colours and contrasts in poor light,” it says.
“Between the ages of 15 and 65, the time it takes to recover from glare increases from one to nine seconds.”
Basically, driving at night is fraught with potential danger for all these reasons.
Ideally, you’d stay off the roads until it’s light – or take public transport instead.
However, we know that’s not always possible. So, how can you keep yourself safe?
Plan your journey
The first step is to plan your journey – even if it’s relatively short.
Work out your route and try to stick to well-lit roads rather than dark country lanes.
Try to identify particularly challenging hazards on the journey, especially tight corners, that might prove tricky when vision is poor.
Also, pack sensible. For example, remember to always keep de-icer and a scraper in your car.
Driving at night also requires more concentration.
If you’re travelling a long distance then see if one of your passengers is able to share the driving with you.
At the very least you need to take rest breaks every two hours.
Of course, if you’re feeling fatigued earlier in the journey then find somewhere safe to pull off and rest.
Check your lights
It’s not only illegal to drive at night without functioning front and rear lights – it’s also dangerous!
Make sure you check they’re working and that you carry spare bulbs with you. It might not be instantly obvious when you’re driving.
It’s also worth getting your local garage to check the bulbs have been fitted properly and that your lights are aimed correctly.
Obviously, you need to ensure the headlight glass hasn’t become off-coloured or cracked.
Adjust your mirrors
Make sure your mirrors – wingmirrors and the rear view mirror - are all correctly adjusted before you set off so you have the maximum vision.
Remember, on most cars you can ‘flip the rear view mirror’ to night setting via a little lever at the bottom.
You’ll still see the lights being reflected, but they’ll appear dimmer and not so distracting.
Use your lights properly
There’s a certain etiquette to follow when it comes to night driving.
Firstly, turn dipped headlights on about an hour before sunset.
You should also keep them on for an hour after sunrise as this time of day you are not always visible to other drivers.
Full beam should obviously be used on unlit – or poorly lit – roads.
Make sure you flick them back to dipped when another vehicle comes the other way.
Failing to do so is dangerous as it momentarily dazzles the other driver, causing them to swerve and potentially crash.
Try not to stare at oncoming lights for the same reason.
You may have heard of these glasses that supposedly block glare.
However, it’s been suggested that those with a yellow tint may actually reduce vision.
You’d be better off booking an appointment with your optician to discuss the situation.
Get your eyes tested
Have a thorough eye examination every two years to find out if you need prescription lenses – or whether your eyes have changed.
The rules are that you must be able to read a car number plate made after 1 September 2001 from 20 metres.
You can use glasses or contact lenses, if need them.
Remember: the responsibility of making sure you have the correct vision to get behind the wheel lies with you.
If you need to wear contact lenses or glasses then make sure you keep spares in your car just in case you need them in an emergency.
Keep it clean
Your vision will already be impaired at night so don’t make it worse by having a dirty windscreen.
Make sure your windscreen, windows and any other glass surfaces are sparkling.
If they’re not this can end up causing unwanted glare at night.
According to Autoglass, you should use an alcohol-based cleaner and two good quality, clean, lint-free micro fibre cloths for the outside.
On the inside, Autoglass suggests using rubbing alcohol to help remove grease, then an alcohol-based cleaner, as well as the clean, lint-free micro fibre cloths.
You also need to be wary of any build-up of condensation on the inside of your windows as this can affect visibility.
Therefore, make sure it’s completely clear before you set off.
Windscreens can be prone to steaming up as you’re driving.
Our guide on reducing condensation in your car can give you some tips to help stop it.
Also, if you’re driving in snow, then make sure your window is completely cleared. You must also remove snow off the roof which may block your view as your driving.
If you’re in the countryside there’s an increased chance of animals suddenly appearing in front of you, which can be extremely dangerous.
And then there are the other drivers. We have all met them on the road. Those that forget to turn off their full beams and others that drive too fast for the conditions.
Improve your skills
One of the six modules covered is driving at night. As we’ve discussed, driving at night can be perilous for anyone, but particularly newly qualified drivers.
This varies depending on where you live. However, a broad estimate is between £150 and £200 for the entire course.
Some local councils offer discounts so it’s worth asking what’s available.