12 Tips for Safer Nighttime Driving
When darkness falls, use these strategies to arrive alive
There’s a good reason teens with new driver’s licenses aren’t allowed to drive at night in some states: It’s more dangerous than driving during the day. (According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the fatal crash rate of drivers 16 to 19 is about four times as high at night per mile driven as it is during the day.)
It’s dark out (obviously), other cars’ headlights create glare, and you (and other drivers) are more likely to be tired. Then there’s the fact that four times more motorists are driving drunk at night compared to during the day, posing a hazard to everyone around them, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Seniors for whom nighttime driving has become difficult might be better off limiting their driving to daylight. Diabetes can also make night vision worse, so talk with your doctor about driving at night.
If you’re healthy and looking for ways to make nighttime driving safer and easier, start with these tips, courtesy of the National Safety Council, Allstate Insurance, SmartMotorist.com and personal injury attorneys.
Have your eyes checked. Especially if you are an older driver, see your eye doctor at least once a year to make sure you don’t have cataracts or other eye problems that could hamper your vision at night.
Keep your car clean. Wash the windows inside and out and wipe off those dirty headlights, taillights, signal lights and mirrors. According to Popular Mechanics, dirty mirrors reflect the lights from the headlights behind you in a wider, more diffused shape.
Turn on your headlights. We’ve all had to honk at some point to warn a hapless soul as he careens down the road on a dark night with no headlights on. Put your headlights on at twilight.
Make sure your headlights won’t blind other drivers. Have you ever been blinded at night by what looks like lighthouse-strength headlights from an oncoming car? Make sure your headlights are aimed correctly so they won’t blind other drivers — and so you can see. Even slamming a trunk repeatedly can jolt your headlights out of alignment, so if you notice your headlights seem dim at night, they may need adjusting. Have your mechanic take a look and fix them if necessary. Regularly carrying a heavy load in the rear can cause your headlamps to tilt up, so talk with your mechanic if that's an issue.
Related: How to Make Your Next Car Safer
Combat glare. Look away from the bright lights of oncoming traffic shining in your eyes.Use the right edge of the road (which you can see in your peripheral vision) as a touchstone to steer by.
Keep your dashboard lights on low. Limiting the contrast between your dashboard lights and the surrounding darkness will make it easier to see.
Watch your meds. Check the label on your meds and don’t get behind the wheel if there’s a warning not to operate a motor vehicle while taking them. The same goes for daytime driving, of course.
Quit smoking. According to smokefree.gov, nicotine restricts the production of a chemical necessary for good night vision. Smoking can also be distracting if you’re behind the wheel.
Increase the following distance between you and the car in front of you. The “three-second rule” for safe following — that is, making sure it would take at least three seconds to reach the car ahead of you in an emergency — should become the “six second rule” at night, according to SmartMotorist.com. If you’re driving at night in heavy fog, rain or snow, make that nine seconds.
Stay focused. Distracted driving is a bad idea during the day and an even worse idea at night. Don’t talk on the cell phone, even hands-free, or even with your passengers.
Take frequent breaks. Stop to stretch your legs and have a light snack to help prevent drowsiness.
Tired? Take a nap. “If you find yourself growing weary, stop at a rest stop … and take a quick nap,” says an advisory from the law offices of Michael Pines. “Even a short nap replenishes you better than the temporary relief that you will get from caffeine, loud music or opening the windows.”
If you still feel exhausted, you may want to spring for a hotel room. Sure, it’ll cost something, but it’s nothing compared to having to pay for a week or two in intensive care if you nod out while you’re driving.
With these tips in mind, you can enjoy the peaceful darkness as you cruise steadily closer to your destination and some well-deserved rest.