Wintertime brings various driving challenges, from wet, rainy conditions to wind, ice and snow. One factor you might not think about, though, is the length of the nights. The shorter days of winter mean there are more hours of darkness, and that translates to more driving time in the dark. Help ensure that you’re traveling safely on winter’s darker roads by following these safety tips for night driving.
Our pupils dilate in the dark, and our eyesight tends to detect lights and movement rather than the color and sharp details that we recognize during the day, according to experts. Consequently, our depth perception isn’t as keen at night, and our eyes may be more prone to become dry or tired because we tend to concentrate more and blink less.
With these physiological factors in mind, there are a few things you can do to make nighttime treks less treacherous. Eye doctors typically recommend scanning the road and keeping your eyes moving instead of concentrating all your vision on one area.
It’s also important to understand what you’re seeing. For example, if you’re traveling through a rural area that’s packed with deer, raccoons or other wildlife, two small, bright dots may be animal eyes in the distance ahead. Avoid hitting an animal by looking for reflections of your headlights in its eyes, which should be visible well before you can see the entire animal.
Make sure you’re getting your vision checked regularly, too. The American Optometric Association recommends getting your eyes checked every two years if you’re 18 to 60 years old, and annually after that.
At night, the lights around you can work against you just as much as they work for you. Make sure that your headlights are aimed properly, since misaligned headlights can negatively impact your visibility and blind other motorists, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Driving at dusk also poses greater risks than you might expect, since your eyes have to continually adjust as night falls. If the lights on your dashboard are on their brightest setting, it may take a toll on your forward visibility. Dim your interior lights so that they are visible, but not distracting. That way, it will be easy for your eyes to adjust to the lights on the road ahead.
By the same token, avoid staring at headlights from oncoming traffic and other bright lights out on the road. It’s easy to get distracted by the high beams of a tall truck, or the glare coming off of an illuminated billboard. If you’re blinded by oncoming traffic, look toward the right edge of the road and steer along its path until you can see clearly again, the NSC suggests.
Make sure that your headlights, taillights and turn signals are clean (and of course, clear of ice and snow), and ensure that your mirrors are also clean and properly adjusted. This can help maximize your ability to see what’s going on around you. Additionally, cleaning your windshield and windows with newspaper will help remove streaks that compromise your visibility at night, according to Popular Mechanics. Once your windows are clean, try to avoid touching them or wiping them off with your bare hand, since your skin’s oil can smear and create a glare when light shines in. Instead, keep a clean cloth in your glove box or center console, so you’ll have it handy when your windshield needs cleaning.
It should go without saying, but distracted driving should always be avoided. Stop to stretch your legs and get food if you’re on a long trip, and if you’re tired, make sure you get some rest before heading back out on the road. It can be hard to judge how fast a car is traveling or how far away it is at night, so slow down and make sure that you are following other vehicles at a safe distance. Be mindful of other drivers, and switch to your low beams if there’s oncoming traffic or if you’re following another vehicle.
Whether it’s just after dusk, or right before dawn, these tips can help you take back the night.