4 safety tips for driving at night
Last updated: January 1
From dusk to dawn, driving in the dark presents a unique set of challenges for drivers. From the way your pupils dilate to the glare of nearby lights, things just look different in the dark — and that may affect your reactions and perceptions on the road. To help ensure you're traveling safely, follow these tips for night driving.
1. Sharpen your vision
Our pupils dilate in the dark to let more light in, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Our eyes then use rods and cones to process that light — rods are sensitive in low light but only see black and white, while cones need bright light to process colors and visual details. In darkness, the AAO says that more rods than cones will be working, so you'll be seeing in mostly black and white.
Many people are also more nearsighted at night, according to the AAO, and objects may not appear as clearly or sharply as they would in daylight. Popular Mechanics notes that the darkness may also diminish your depth perception and peripheral vision. Essentially, all this means that you may have trouble seeing objects and lights at night.
With these physiological factors in mind, there are a few things you can do to make nighttime treks less treacherous. For starters, dim the lights on your dashboard, as Popular Mechanics notes these lights may diminish your night vision. Dim your interior lights so that they are visible but not distracting. And if someone behind you has their high beams on, Popular Mechanics says you should adjust your rearview mirror so that the light is not reflecting directly at your eyes.
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. Help 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 64 years old and annually after that. The National Safety Council (NSC) also recommends making sure your glasses, if you wear them, are anti-reflective.
2. Lighten up
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 may negatively impact your visibility and distract other motorists, according to Popular Mechanics.
By the same token, avoid staring at headlights from oncoming traffic and other bright lights out on the road, says Popular Mechanics. It's easy to get distracted by the high beams of a tall truck or the glare coming off of an illuminated billboard.
3. Keep it clean
Make sure that your lights are clear, 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. Popular Mechanics recommends cleaning your headlights so that nothing is blocking the light. If the plastic lens covers have faded or become foggy looking, you may want to use a headlight polishing kit to get them clear again. Additionally, cleaning your windshield and windows with newspaper may help remove streaks that compromise your visibility at night, according to Popular Mechanics. It's also a good idea to clean and adjust mirrors, which may help prevent glare. It may also be helpful to aim them slightly downward so that the light from other cars' headlights aren't reflecting directly at you.
4. Stay alert
It should go without saying, but distracted driving should always be avoided. The NSC says it may be helpful to reduce distractions while driving at night, which can be as simple as turning down the radio. Stop and rest every two hours on longer trips and, if possible, try to avoid driving between midnight and 6 a.m., recommends the National Sleep Foundation. The NSC suggests slowing down to compensate for reduced visibility, 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, driving in dark conditions can be challenging. Follow these tips to help stay safe on the road during the night.