It’s never easy driving at night — especially in traffic. You have low visibility, headlights on high beam from clueless drivers shining in your eyes and you’re usually tired, to boot. Driving at night is provably dangerous, too — 3 times as many fatal road accidents occur at night than during day, going by the NHTSA’s figures. Seen another way, while only 25% of all driving happens at night, nighttime driving accounts for 50% of all road deaths.
Everything is worse when you drive at night — you’re less able to perceive depth and color, your peripheral vision doesn’t work very well and you have lights shining in your eyes. Basic physics works against you, too — while your headlights on low beam typically light your way no more than 250 feet, you need 200 feet to stop when you’re going at 55 mph, the legal limit in most places. There’s barely any room for error.
So what do you do? Here are 5 tips to help you get home safe when you need to drive at night.
5. Clean up your act with your headlights
Car headlights aren’t made locked in place — they are adjustable. This is why nearly no car on the road has its headlights positioned for the best possible beam — not even new cars. It’s up to drivers to either ask a mechanic to recalibrate their lights or learn the simple procedure by reading through the manual. Drives do neither. Calibrated lights enable better visibility.
Even well-adjusted lights often fail to deliver a good beam. In many cases, for instance, aging plastic headlight lens covers that grow less and less transparent over the years are to blame. You can either buy a headlight polish kit to fix the problem yourself or look up a bit of DIY advice on how it can be done with toothpaste or other simple materials.
4. Make sure your dashboard lights are not distracting you
Modern dashboard displays can have a virtual Christmas tree’s worth of bright lights. If you have them all at full illumination, they can be both distracting and bad for your ability to see in the dark. This is why nighttime race drivers completely turn off their displays — they need to be able to see well and to concentrate on their driving. While turning displays off is a bad idea for road cars, it makes sense to turn the illumination down as low as it will go. This is what the dimmer switch is for. Map lights need to be turned off, too.
3. Forget those night driving glasses
Many sunglass displays at stores carry a certain yellow tinted product that is supposed to offer better nighttime visibility. You only have the manufacturers’ word to go on, though. The American Academy of Ophthalmology advises drivers to stay away from these glasses because they only offer the illusion of better vision.
The idea behind these yellow tints is that they enhance contrast, making dark objects stand out better. All they do really, though, is to cut down on the light you see and offer a misleading illusion of improved sharpness. If you have normal vision, vision aids can do nothing for you. If you do need prescription glasses, you should wear those and choose lenses that have antireflective coating. Normal eyes don’t need extra help.
2. Stay alert for bright eyes
Running over an animal can involve terrible pain and certain death for the animal. If it’s a larger animal, though, it isn’t good for the car, either. If you hit a large deer, for instance, you can easily lose control of your vehicle or even be crushed under its weight if it lands on your roof. The trick to avoiding these collisions at night is simple — you need to learn to watch out for redeye glints. It’s the same effect that you get with poorly composed nighttime flash shots. The flash hits the retinas and shows them up brightly.
When there is an animal in your path, your headlights will make its retinas shine — you’ll usually see them as two small bright spots in the darkness. When you train yourself to watch out for retinal reflections, you’ll soon learn to effortlessly spot them.
1. Finally, make sure that everything’s clean
A dirty windshield or mirrors can easily obscure a great deal of detail. Even a quick wipe is likely to help you see better. Getting windscreen cleaners that repel dust can help you keep your windshield clean long after you clean it.