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Driving at Night

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It’s More Dangerous

You are at greater risk when you drive at night. Drivers can’t see hazards as quickly as in daylight, so they have less time to respond. Drivers caught by surprise are less able to avoid a crash.

The problems of night driving involve the driver, the roadway, and the vehicle.

Driver Factors

Vision. People can’t see as sharply at night or in dim light. Also, their eyes need time to adjust to seeing in dim light. Most people have noticed this when walking into a dark movie theater.

Glare. Drivers can be blinded for a short time by bright light. It takes time to recover from this blindness. Older drivers are especially bothered by glare. Most people have been temporarily blinded by camera flash units or by the high beams of an oncoming vehicle. It can take several seconds to recover from glare. Even two seconds of glare blindness can be dangerous. A vehicle going 55 mph will travel more than half the distance of a football field during that time. Don’t look directly at bright lights when driving. Look at the right side of the road. Watch the sidelines when someone coming toward you has very bright lights on.

Fatigue and Lack of Alertness. Fatigue (being tired) and lack of alertness are bigger problems at night. The body’s need for sleep is beyond a person’s control. Most people are less alert at night, especially after midnight. This is particularly true if you have been driving for a long time. Drivers may not see hazards as soon, or react as quickly, so the chance of a crash is greater. If you are sleepy, the only safe cure is to get off the road and get some sleep. If you don’t, you risk your life and the lives of others.

 Roadway Factors

Poor Lighting. In the daytime there is usually enough light to see well. This is not true at night. Some areas may have bright street lights, but many areas will have poor lighting. On most roads you will probably have to depend entirely on your headlights.

Less light means you will not be able to see hazards as well as in daytime. Road users who do not have lights are hard to see. There are many accidents at night involving pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, and animals.

Even when there are lights, the road scene can be confusing. Traffic signals and hazards can be hard to see against a background of signs, shop windows, and other lights.

Drive slower when lighting is poor or confusing. Drive slowly enough to be sure you can stop in the distance you can see ahead.

Drunk Drivers. Drunk drivers and drivers under the influence of drugs are a hazard to themselves and to you. Be especially alert around the closing times for bars and taverns. Watch for drivers who have trouble staying in their lane or maintaining speed, who stop without reason, or show other signs of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Vehicle Factors

Headlights. At night your headlights will usually be the main source of light for you to see by and for others to see you. You can’t see nearly as much with your headlights as you see in the daytime. With low beams you can see ahead about 250 feet and with high beams about 350-500 feet. You must adjust your speed to keep your stopping distance within your sight distance. This means going slowly enough to be able to stop within the range of your headlights. Otherwise, by the time you see a hazard, you will not have time to stop.

Night driving can be more dangerous if you have problems with your headlights. Dirty headlights may give only half the light they should. This cuts down your ability to see, and makes it harder for others to see you. Make sure your lights are clean and working. Headlights can be out of adjustment. If they don’t point in the right direction, they won’t give you a good view and they can blind other drivers. Have a qualified person make sure they are adjusted properly.

Other Lights. In order for you to be seen easily, the following must be clean and working properly:

  • Reflectors.
  • Marker lights.
  • Clearance lights.
  • Taillights.
  • Identification lights.

Turn Signals and Brake Lights. At night your turn signals and brake lights are even more important for telling other drivers what you intend to do. Make sure you have clean, working turn signals and stop lights.

Windshield and Mirrors. It is more important at night than in the daytime to have a clean windshield and clean mirrors. Bright lights at night can cause dirt on your windshield or mirrors to create a glare of its own, blocking your view. Most people have experienced driving toward the sun just as it has risen or is about to set, and found that they can barely see through a windshield that seemed to look OK in the middle of the day. Clean your windshield on the inside and outside for safe driving at night.

Night Driving Procedures

Pre-trip Procedures. Make sure you are rested and alert. If you are drowsy, sleep before you drive! Even a nap can save your life or the lives of others. If you wear eyeglasses, make sure they are clean and unscratched. Don’t wear sunglasses at night. Do a complete pre-trip inspection of your vehicle. Pay attention to checking all lights and reflectors, and cleaning those you can reach.

Avoid Blinding Others. Glare from your headlights can cause problems for drivers coming toward you. They can also bother drivers going in the same direction you are, when your lights shine in their rearview mirrors. Dim your lights before they cause glare for other drivers. Dim your lights within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle and when following another vehicle within 500 feet.

Avoid Glare from Oncoming Vehicles. Do not look directly at lights of oncoming vehicles. Look slightly to the right at a right lane or edge marking, if available. If other drivers don’t put their low beams on, don’t try to “get back at them” by putting your own high beams on. This increases glare for oncoming drivers and increases the chance of a crash.

Use High Beams When You Can. Some drivers make the mistake of always using low beams. This seriously cuts down on their ability to see ahead. Use high beams when it is safe and legal to do so. Use them when you are not within 500 feet of an approaching vehicle. Also, don’t let the inside of your cab get too bright. This makes it harder to see outside. Keep the interior light off, and adjust your instrument lights as low as you can to still be able to read the gauges.

If You Get Sleepy, Stop at the Nearest Safe Place. People often don’t realize how close they are to falling asleep even when their eyelids are falling shut. If you can safely do so, look at yourself in a mirror. If you look sleepy, or you just feel sleepy, stop driving! You are in a very dangerous condition. The only safe cure is to sleep

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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