Driving in the dark can be more dangerous than doing so during the day, not to mention more challenging. Particularly for anyone with impaired vision! And as we start entering winter, and the days get shorter, we’re more likely to be driving when it's dark.
If you’ve recently passed your test, or simply don’t feel confident driving at night, you may be tempted to avoid it altogether. But this won’t necessarily always be practical. We’ve therefore looked at a few ways you can stay safe when driving in the dark below:
1. Check Your Lights
Before you drive at night, it’s a good idea to make sure that your lights are in full working order. A bulb may need changing, or the outer plastic could need buffing. You should be regularly checking your lights anyway, but it’s especially crucial when you’re driving a lot in the dark.
The way you use your lights is important too. We don’t tend to use dipped headlights as often as we should - ideally, you’d turn these on about an hour before sunset, or an hour before sunrise. While there will be light during these periods, visibility will be poor, and you want to ensure you’re clearly noticeable to other drivers. With your full beams, these should be dipped if you come across another vehicle, but can be useful on unlit, country roads.
2. Clean Your Windows
You probably don’t realise how dirty your windows can get. Roads are rarely the cleanest of places, and grime can accumulate, making visibility poor even on a bright, sunny day. And condensation can build up within the car, especially in colder months. So at night, it’s more important than ever to make sure your windscreen is absolutely spotless.
You can buy specialist glass cleaners to wash your windows, and microfibre cloths are a great thing to invest in too. Spray the windscreen with your cleaning fluid, and use small circular motions with the cloth to remove all the dirt and grime. It’s then sensible to use a dry microfibre cloth to buff the window afterwards.
3. Avoid Staring
Just as you should avoid dazzling other drivers with your full beam headlights, it’s also essential that you don’t get blinded by the lights of oncoming vehicles. Don’t look directly into the headlights of other cars, as the glare can impair your vision, even if it’s only temporarily. This can lead to you drifting slightly on the road.
To prevent this from happening, try to keep to the far left of the road, following the white markings where possible. And if the other driver has such bright headlights you’re unable to see anything, slow down gradually, so that you can come to a safe stop if necessary.
4. Get Your Eyes Checked
Our eyes are designed to be used in daylight, so it’s no surprise that driving at night is more difficult. Your eyes need to continually adjust to the reducing levels of light. Some drivers only realise that they have problems with their eyesight in such conditions of decreased visibility.
It’s therefore a good idea to get your eyes tested regularly, and book an appointment as soon as you can if you think you’re having issues with your eyesight. You may need to get special glasses that help with night driving, which have an anti-reflection coating to reduce glare.
5. Look Out for Wildlife
Across the UK, there is a wide variety of wildlife, from marauding foxes to graceful deer. When you’re driving on winding country lanes, you’re particularly at risk of a woodland creature jumping into your path. And as much of this wildlife is active at night, you have to be more mindful when you’re driving in the dark.
If you’re travelling at a sensible speed, you should be able to avoid most animal-related accidents. However, wildlife could jump or fly in front of your car with no warning, and if it’s a smaller animal, such as a badger or fox, it’s advised that you don’t stop. This may sound cruel, but stopping could mean causing a more serious accident. With larger animals like deer, as hitting this will likely put you, your passengers, and your vehicle at risk, you should perform an emergency stop.
6. Drive More Cautiously
When it starts getting dark earlier, particular groups of people, such as children, cyclists, and the elderly, are often more vulnerable. Hopefully they’ll be wearing reflective clothing, but there's no guarantee that they will.
Try to take extra care when driving in close proximity to schools, and in other residential areas. Driving more cautiously will mean you have additional time to react, should someone step in front of your vehicle.
7. Never Drive When Tired
Regardless of the preparation you’ve put in, from checking your lights to cleaning your windscreen, you can’t overcome tiredness when driving. Never get behind the wheel when you feel fatigued, as it can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. If you start feeling tired, make sure you pull over and take a break.
Long journeys where visibility is poor should always include at least a few rest stops. When mapping out your journey, plan where you’ll be stopping, and maybe grab a caffeinated drink around the halfway point, to keep yourself alert.
8. Practice Night Driving
With most things, the more you practice, the better you’ll get. The same can be said for driving at night. So if you’re uncomfortable driving after dark, or have only recently got your full driving licence, getting experience driving in these conditions can be extremely helpful.
Some driving instructors even offer evening lessons, so that their pupils gain some practical experience of driving in the dark, and help them boost their confidence. And after passing your driving test, Pass Plus courses are available, which includes a module on night driving.