Driving at Night

It comes as no surprise that night driving is a bit more difficult than driving during daylight hours. How so? Now, you are relying on artificial light to illuminate your path. This is no match for daylight, of course, but vehicles are equipped for nighttime operation. The condition of that equipment – your headlights and even your windshield – can turn this routine challenge into a more serious one.

            You know that your windshield should always be clean and free from cracks or dings. Driving with a dirty or streaky windshield  will most definitely hamper your vision. And if you have direct sunlight or the glare of headlights from oncoming vehicles hitting your streaky windshield? Well, if you have not yet experienced it, suffice it to say that you are driving almost blindly!

Dirty lenses on your headlights produce a similar effect. Have you ever used a flashlight whose batteries were very low on power? If so, you remember how difficult it probably was to see anything. Now think about a headlight lamp that is close to the end of its service life or even out. How do you think driving with only one working headlight will affect your ability to see? Just as important, what about your ability to be seen? Remember, the lights on your vehicle are there so you can see where you are going. But they are also there so other drivers can see where you are!

Consider these factors whenever you drive at night:

  • You should activate your headlights any time you drive between the hours of sunset and sunrise. Don’t get too comfortable if your vehicle is equipped with those headlights that automatically activate with a light sensor. Make sure they are on when you know they should be.
  • Your parking lights are not headlights, so never use them as such (unless you are experiencing an on board emergency. More on that later). Always use your parking lights if you must park on the street or shoulder and are in more rural or dimly lit areas.
  • Any time you are within five hundred feet of an oncoming vehicle, be sure you are using your low beams. The light from your high beams can blind an oncoming driver. And if their windshield is dirty or streaky? How do you think that will affect their ability to see?
  • Be aware of vehicles in front of you as well when it comes to high beams. Switch from high to low beams as soon as you are within three hundred feet of a driver in front of you. Remember, rearview mirrors can reflect glare and make seeing both behind you and ahead of you more difficult. Now, what about if you are the victim of someone behind you whose high beams are shining in your rearview and making it difficult for you to see – and drive? First off, the driver behind you may not be doing anything wrong and may not even have his high beams activated. Height differences in vehicles can promote a situation where headlights from an SUV, let’s say, will shine directly into the mirror of a compact vehicle. So, what can you do? Did you know that most cars have a tab or switch on the rearview mirror for night driving? Newer vehicles with automatic rearviews will have a similar option as well. Simply put, pressing this tab changes the angle of your rearview mirror to reflect light away from you. This, without hampering your ability to see what’s behind you. If you are unaware of this great safety feature, take a close look at your rearview mirror or check your car’s owner’s manual for any reference to “night mode” or something similar.
  • High beam headlights do have their place. They are most effective at speeds over 25 mph and can reveal objects up to about four hundred fifty feet away.
  • You already know that speeding is dangerous, not to mention against the law. But did you know that driving too fast at night can cause you to “outrun” or “over drive” your headlights. When you drive at night, your lights can illuminate the road only so far ahead. After that, it’s darkness. If you are driving so fast that you reach those dark areas before your headlights illuminate them enough to warn you of a curve or an obstruction in the road – do you see a problem here?
  • Avoid looking into the headlights of oncoming vehicles for obvious reasons. You need to be aware on the presence and position of those vehicles, but turn your focus towards pavement markings to guide you. Just don’t forget to maintain your awareness of where other vehicles are in relation to you.
  • Have you ever walked from bright sunlight directly into a poorly lit area. How well could you see for the first few seconds? We have discussed how much can happen in a few seconds when you’re driving, right? If you enter a dark area directly from one that is bright and/or well-lit when driving, slow down. Give your eyes some time to adjust. And this isn’t a tip for just night driving. If you have ever driven inside of a dark tunnel directly from bright sunlight, you know what it’s like when you first enter the darkness.
  • That one headlight approaching you? It could be a motorcycle. Or it could be a vehicle with a burnt out headlight lamp. Stay as far right as is safely possible until you know what is approaching you.
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