Driving at night is not the fuel-saving, traffic-free breeze it is often claimed to be and, in fact, can be a lot more dangerous than driving during the day.
Freight hauliers and even private motorists who believe travelling at night helps save fuel and cuts down on the stresses of heavy traffic are making a potentially fatal mistake, as death rates are three times higher at night than during the day.
There are a number of myths associated with driving at night. Ultimately the decision relies entirely on you, the driver, and what works best for you and your driving preferences but, 90% of a driver's reaction depends on vision, and vision is severely limited at night. Depth perception, colour recognition and peripheral vision are compromised after sundown.
The Myths About Night Driving – beware, the devil is in the darkness:
There are less vehicles on the road so I will travel faster and reach my destination quicker
I can better focus on the road
My vehicle lights are good and high so I can see well
Other vehicles can see my vehicle easier
There is less traffic control at night
Criminals are not as active at night
Pros for night driving:
Far less traffic.
Much easier to find parking than during the day.
Little to no wait at the fuel stations.
Less traffic congestion in construction zones.
Cons for night driving:
Inclement weather is worse to deal with at night.
Vision is impaired and damage from things like potholes can be much higher.
More wildlife to contend with.
Major road construction and repairs happen at night – more workers and moving equipment.
Finding a place to park for a break can be tricky.
Criminal activity generally at its peak.
Several factors need to be taken into account when driving at night and offers 12 tips that could help reduce the risk.
1. Be Extra Defensive
Drinking and driving poses a bigger risk after dark, and the rate of fatal crashes involving alcohol impairment is almost four times higher at night than during the day. Of course, never get behind the wheel after drinking, no matter what time of day it is (don’t drive while distracted either); but at night, it is a good idea to put your defensive-driving instincts on high alert.
2. Combat Fatigue
Drowsy-driving crashes are most likely to happen between midnight and 6am. So be aware during these hours that there may be sleepy drivers on the road — and keep yourself alert. Have some caffeine, pull over in a safe area to get some rest, or stop for the night. Some drivers have reported other activities that can help – turning the radio on (not too loud), rolling down the windows periodically for fresh air and even talking or singing to yourself.
3. Clean Up Your View
Dirty or damaged windshields can scatter light and potentially increase the effects of glare. Reports that dirty or damaged headlights can decrease your visibility and cast glare onto oncoming drivers. So clean headlights and windshields regularly; you can use a special cleaning kit for headlights.
4. Avoid Two-Lane Highways
Two-lane highways may be a ‘worst-case scenario’ for night time glare, due to oncoming cars’ headlights, lower overall light and the fact that these roads tend to have more sharp curves and hills than a freeway. If you can, take a safer route at night.
5. Slow Down
Speeding-related crashes account for 37% of night time-driving fatalities, compared with 21% of those during daylight hours — due to lower visibility and shorter reaction times. For example, your headlight typically shines 50 to 60 meters in front of you, but even at 65 km/h, you need 57 meters to stop. Adjust your speed to take conditions like visibility into account.
6. Angle Your Headlights Correctly
If the beams tilt down too much, you will lose some of the illumination you need while driving. However, if they tilt too high, they can blind oncoming drivers. Take the initiative to make sure yours are pointed correctly. This is not usually a DIY project and consumers should go to their car dealer or a repair facility for assistance, if your vehicle does not have a headlight angle function.
7. Use High Beams (Brights) When Appropriate
High beams are underutilised but can be very helpful in rural areas or on open roads. Just remember to dim them when oncoming vehicles approach (so you do not temporarily blind the other driver), and do not use them if you’re following another vehicle. If you are in the market for a new car, we recommend looking for adaptive lighting systems that automatically adjust your high beams depending on the presence of other cars.
8. Tweak Your Inside Lighting
If your dashboard lights are too bright, glancing from the dashboard to the dark road ahead can be disorienting. Dim the interior lights at night, so that critical controls remain easily visible but not distracting, and use your visors at night to shield you from outdoor street lighting and glare. Many new cars have mirrors that automatically dim the reflections from bright light from behind.
9. Look In The Right Direction
While you should always keep your eyes on the road, avoid a fixed gaze and never stare at oncoming headlights. When approaching an oncoming vehicle, avoid being blinded by its headlights by shifting your eyes down and to the right, using the right edge of the road or lane markings as a guide to stay on track. Lift your gaze back up when you’ve passed the oncoming vehicle.
10. Watch For Wildlife
Collisions with wildlife often happen at dusk or at night and are more common from October to January. Your high beams (brights) can help you spot an animal’s glowing eyes. When you see them, the safest way to avoid an accident is by slowing down and sometimes stopping — not by swerving.
11. Take Care Of Your Eyes
Get your vision checked every year; glare becomes more problematic for people as they age. You may also need a different prescription at night.
12. Test And Use Your Lights
Regularly test all your lights, including low beams, high beams, daytime running lights, turn signals and brake lights. Moreover, make sure to use your headlights to stay visible; not only do you need to turn them on when it’s dark, but also you should turn them on in adverse weather conditions like rain, snow and hail.
A huge challenge on our roads is the actual condition of the surface. Driving at night makes it harder to spot potholes but, even more dangerous than those, are the road edges that have been worn away and are crumbling. Pedestrians dressed in black or dark clothing are a major hazard as are wild animals, especially kudu, as they tend to jump at the lights of an approaching vehicle.
There is also huge pressure placed on hauliers who often have to drive long stretches with little rest. The hours between 23:00 and 04:00 are the most dangerous and our claims records show crashes that happen during this time are generally high-speed accidents.
Obviously not all night driving can be avoided and we recommend drivers go for check-ups, especially if they believe that they might experience symptoms of night blindness. The older a driver gets the more frequent these check-ups should be repeated.
Age can make eyes more sensitive to glare and eye sensitivity could also be increased by medical conditions such as cataracts.
It is important to recognise the increased risks when driving at night. If we cannot avoid driving at this time we need to be well prepared and to adjust our driving to be more defensive!
Not sure if your fleet is fit for purpose? Let us review your fleet policy.
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