While it may be hard to tell whether a black shape for your headlights is a deer or a pedestrian when you're out on the road late at night, it's not hard to see why many drivers are so reluctant to drive in the dark. Despite the fact that most of the driving takes place during the day, about 40-50% of all accidents occur at night. There's no reason at all that driving at night should be unsafe -- with a few simple precautions, you can drive safely in the dark, be highly visible and even enjoy the unique experience of a nighttime ride!
Part 1 of 3: Learning to drive safely
Step 1. When in doubt, turn off your lights
As the evening slowly descends over the streets and roads of a city, there is almost always an hour or two when some cars will have their headlights on and others will not. As a general rule, if you notice it's getting darker outside (even if it's just slightly), it's a good idea to turn on your headlights. While you may not need your headlights to see on the road during these times of the day, other drivers can see you more easily (especially if the sun is setting behind you, making it difficult for oncoming traffic to see).
In addition, in many countries, driving at night without your headlights on can be against the law. Headlights must be on from dusk to dawn (and dusk)
Step 2. Drive slowly
As a general rule, driving at night requires that you drive less fast than during the day. Because visibility is much lower in the dark than during the day (even on well-lit urban roads), it takes longer to see and respond to hazards, pedestrians and other obstacles in traffic. Since you can't control what kind of hazards you will encounter along the way, but you can control the way you drive, your smartest move is to just slow down and give yourself more time to react to any problems you encounter. Never drive 'past' your headlights -- that is, drive so fast that you can't stop within the distance illuminated by your headlights.
A good rule of thumb for driving at night is, "The posted speed limit is the highest speed allowed by law -- not the fastest speed that is safe." Feel free to drive slower than the speed limit if you can't see far in front of you, especially on a bend in the road or when going over a hilltop, where your visibility is further impaired. Let other cars go ahead if necessary
Step 3. Be wary of drivers who have been drinking and/or are tired
Statistically, there are almost always more drunk and overtired drivers on the road in the evening and at night than during the day. This can have deadly consequences -- for example, in 2011, there were in the U. S. up to more than four times as many accidents at night as during the day due to drink-driving. Both of the aforementioned conditions can drastically reduce a motorist's reaction time and thus lead to reckless behavior, so watch out for erratic drivers on the road and give them plenty of space.
Keep in mind that on weekend evenings (Friday and Saturday) you will usually encounter more inebriated drivers than during the week, as many people start their weekend with a drink or two. Vacations can be especially dangerous. For example, some analyzes have found that the early hours of January 1 can be the deadliest of the year for drink-driving accidents
Step 4. Take frequent breaks against fatigue
Just as you need to watch out for other drivers who may suffer from fatigue, you need to control your own fatigue. Being tired while driving can pose many of the same risks as alcohol, including lowered consciousness, slower reaction times, frequent 'dreaming away', 'driving in and out of lanes', and so on. To address these issues, you often need to stop for some exercise, eat something and/or take caffeine to focus before getting back on the road.
If you're too tired to drive safely -- for example, if you can't keep your eyes open, find a parking lot or gas station where you can rest and sleep. Avoiding accidents and the life-threatening risks of falling asleep at the wheel (even if only for a few seconds) is far more important than the inconvenience of being late to your destination
Step 5. Keep an eye out for animals, especially in rural areas
Animals crossing the road can be especially dangerous at night. It can be very difficult to see animals in front of you on dimly lit roads when driving at high speeds, and a collision with large animals such as deer can be fatal or cause major damage (to the driver, animal and your car) to have. Stay vigilant if you're in areas where deer or other wildlife often cross the road (such as rural areas). Pay attention to road signs that indicate that wildlife can cross and adjust your speed accordingly. In addition, keep in mind that most deer accidents occur in late fall and early winter (although they can occur all year round).
- When you see an animal in front of you, the smartest action is usually to not to swerve. While it may be your first instinct, swerve is usually the leading cause of injury and fatalities in deer accidents. Instead, reduce your speed as much as possible by braking and letting your car hit the animal.
- A useful trick for spotting animals in front of you is to look for the reflection of their eyes. While it is usually difficult or impossible to see an animal's body before it falls within range of your headlights, the reflected light in the animal's eyes shows you from a much greater distance. If you see two glowing dots next to each other in the dark ahead, slow down immediately!
Step 6. Keep moving your eyes
'Dreaming' is often a major problem for drivers who drive at night. To stay focused, keep moving your eyes while you drive. Constantly scan the road ahead looking for potential hazards. Look sideways to both sides of the road and check your mirrors occasionally to stay aware of your surroundings. Resist the urge to focus only on the dividing line in the middle of the road – it doesn't give you much important visual information and can 'hypnotize' you into a state of lowered consciousness.
The relatively quiet, calm atmosphere of most nighttime driving and the uniformity of the dark or pitch-black surroundings can put motorists in a dangerous trance-like state. Even if a driver doesn't just fall asleep, distraction can lead to slower reaction times, forgetfulness and other dangerous problems that are very unsafe. Always stay alert and vigilant -- your life and the lives of other drivers could depend on it
Step 7. Take all daytime driving precautions
It may seem obvious, but it's worth mentioning that any precautions you take during the day are even more important at night. Make sure you have your belt on, adjust your seat and mirrors, put your cell phone away and focus on driving. These simple everyday precautions make driving safer and less likely to cause accidents, both day and night.
Part 2 of 3: Improving your visibility
Step 1. Keep your headlights, mirrors and windshield in top condition
Your headlights are your most important lifeline when driving in the dark. If they are not in good condition, you unnecessarily increase the risk of an accident. Keep your headlights clean by washing them every few weeks -- this will keep the beam's brightness and sharpness high. If a headlamp burns out, replace it as soon as possible and do not drive at night until the lamp has been repaired. It is also prohibited to drive a car without properly working headlights.
Plus, for the most visibility, you should make your windshield, windows, and mirrors as clear and clean as you can. Don't wipe these important parts of your car with your hand -- the natural oil from your skin can stain the mirror. Use newspaper or microfiber cloth instead
Step 2. Use your high beam for low light situations
Your car's high beam lights can significantly increase your safety when driving at night, but only if you use them correctly. You use high-beam headlights when driving through very dark areas with little visibility, where there is not much traffic. In these cases, high-beam headlights can make your range of vision much wider and longer, so use them as needed.
- Make sure you turn off the high-beam headlights when you drive behind another car or if there are oncoming traffic. In these cases, the bright light from the high-beam headlamps can blind other motorists, making it more difficult for them to drive safely.
- If you're turning at a bend or going over a hilltop and see the faint glow of another car's headlights, turn off your spotlights just to be safe so the other driver isn't suddenly dazzled.
Step 3. Adjust your headlights if necessary
Sometimes, a car's headlights are angled toward the ground more than necessary, or they are not aligned perfectly symmetrically. The brightest headlights in the world aren't helpful if they don't properly light the road ahead. So if you find it difficult to see the road ahead while driving at night, you may want to consider re-adjusting your headlights. This procedure is usually arranged very quickly and cheaply at a professional garage.
It is also possible to adjust your headlights yourself. Since every car is different, you will have to consult the manual of your car. Be patient as it can take a while to get headlights perfectly aligned
Step 4. Properly handle headlights from other road users by looking to the side of the road
In a perfect world, other drivers would always dim their headlights when they see you, just as you would for them. Unfortunately, motorists sometimes want to forget this. If an oncoming car has spotlights on, don't look at them, as the bright light can temporarily blind you. Instead, look to the right side of your roadway (or in countries where you drive on the left side of the road, to the left) while looking out for hazards from your peripheral view. This keeps you as attentive as possible to the dangers around you, while preserving your view.
If a car has your headlights on, try adjusting your rear-view mirror to keep the light out of your eyes. You can even set the mirror to reflect the light back to the driver of that car, alerting him to his mistake
Step 5. Consider installing low fog lights
If you expect to be driving a lot at night and in foggy conditions, you may want to consider investing in a set of fog lights. Often these lights are mounted low on the front bumper to illuminate as much road surface as possible (fog is thinnest to within half a meter or so above the road surface). Not all aftermarket lights are made equally well, so talk to your car dealer before making this purchase.
Never use your standard high-beam headlights in the fog. The reflective water particles that make up fog can bounce the bright light back to you, leaving you with even less of the road ahead than without light
Step 6. If you wear glasses, use an anti-reflective coating
The headlights of other cars (and especially high-beam headlights) can present unique challenges for drivers with glasses. Glasses can sometimes reflect oncoming light in ways that create obscuring glare for the wearer. To avoid this, try contact lenses or buy glasses with an anti-reflective coating to minimize these effects.
If you buy a pair of special glasses, keep them in your car so you always have them on hand when you hit the road
Part 3 of 3: Enjoying a ride in the dark
Step 1. Stay awake by talking to a co-driver
Once you've mastered the basics of safe night driving, the experience can actually become fun and relaxing, especially if you take advantage of fun features that help you drive safely. For example, if you have a passenger with you in the car while driving at night, you can partially engage in lighthearted conversation with him or her. Talking to other people is a great way to stave off fatigue, and the calm, pitch-black environment often encourages surprisingly intimate conversations.
However, be careful not to get too caught up in the conversation. A heated argument, for example, can distract you from your most important task at the time -- driving safely
Step 2. Listen to music that fits late on the road
Driving at night can be a great time to listen to your favorite music on your car's stereo. The relative quiet and calm night makes it easier to hear the details of music, so that good music becomes even more enjoyable. Some people like to listen to smooth disco or electronic music in the evening and at night, while others appreciate the intensity of hard rock more. There is no 'right' kind of music to listen to late at night – that's up to you! Below are some great evening tracks from various genres (there are many, many more):
- Kavinsky - "Night Call"
- Chromatics - "Back From the Grave"
- DJ Shadow - "Midnight in a Perfect World"
- Kyuss - "Gardenia"
- Allan Kingdom - "Evergreens"
- Golden Earring - "Radar Love"
- Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, and Tich - "Hold Tight"
- Quiet Riot - "Party All Night"
- Daft Punk - "Contact"
- Charles Mingus - "Moanin'"
Step 3. Go to late attractions
When you drive late you can sometimes come into contact with people and things that you wouldn't see otherwise! For example, most major city centers don't really come alive until after sunset, bustling with unique characters enjoying the nightlife. Even rural areas often have their own unique nighttime 'feel'. Every track is different, so keep your eyes peeled for salient points as you drive -- if you take a lot of breaks from the fatigue of late driving, you should have plenty of opportunities to stop. Below are just some of the things to look out for:
- Restaurants that are open late
- Bars and discotheques (Note: avoid alcohol and driving, especially at night)
- Truck parking/rest areas
- Scenic trails and lookouts
- Drive-in attractions (theaters, restaurants, etc.)
Step 4. Enjoy the peace (in a responsible way)
Driving late at night can be an experience like no other. With the quiet, steady hum of the engine and the darkness of your surroundings, driving can almost feel like flying through space. Driving at night feels mysterious, fun, and even exciting -- for some people, it's one of life's simplest yet most addictive pleasures. It's great to enjoy a good night ride, but remember to focus on what matters most -- your safety and the safety of other drivers. Always remember that getting distracted while driving can be deadly (especially at night), so keep your attention on the road. If you can rely on your safe driving, then you can relax, tune in and enjoy your car ride responsibly!
- Set your rear-view mirror to 'turn down' or 'night' mode to reduce glare from the headlights from following traffic.
- Check all lights on your vehicle regularly, especially if you know you will be driving more at night (e.g. in the winter months). To make this easier, you can check the lights with someone and make sure they all work, or you can check your own reflection in the windows of a building with a lot of glass.
- Avoid distractions while driving, but don't focus solely on the road. That can put you in a state of hypnosis and even cause you to 'dream away'. Keep your eyes moving around the car and the landscape.
- Always wear a seat belt and tell your passengers to do the same.
- Do not drive with alcohol.
- It's a myth that sunglasses with yellow or bright orange tinted lenses help you see better at night. However, they can help make objects appear brighter.
- Always have your driver's license with you to prevent a police officer from finding an innocent situation suspicious.
- Never drive without an official driver's license registered in your name.
- Do not drive if you are tired. In some countries, driving while drowsy counts as dangerous driving. Regardless of the law, it is dangerous.