At this time of year there are a number of things that can make driving more difficult. We’ve already looked at the frosty weather and its impact on the road, but this is also a particularly good time to cover night time driving. After all, now that we’re firmly in the grips of winter, night feels like any time after 4 o’clock! This means that, unless you’re planning to restrict your driving to the middle of the day (not advisable), you need to know how to adjust to darker conditions. Don’t worry, it only requires a few small changes that are both easy to carry out and extremely important.
The main issue with driving in the dark is obviously visibility. You need to see and be seen. Whether it’s pedestrians, other road users, signs or hazards—perception and control are key. Let’s explore the ways in which you can ensure these skills are developed.
Condition of Your Car
Before you even set off on a journey, you need to make sure your car is in a condition that will aid (rather than hinder) your driving. When the sun goes down, there are three parts of your car that need to be spic and span to aid visibility: mirrors, lights and windows. Make sure each of these is clean and functioning before you start the engine.
Bear in mind that even if your car doesn’t look that dirty, small streaks on the windscreen may dazzle you when headlights reflect off of them. We recommend you give your vehicle a quick smudge check every so often. Same goes for testing that your lights are in good working order—perhaps enlist a friend to help with this one!
As with any kind of driving, your mirrors should be adjusted to your preference and used frequently throughout your journey. At night it is particularly important to keep checking them, as it can be harder to spot other road users in the dark. Making good use of your mirrors enables you to keep track of everything going on around you. As long as they’re clean and in position, you’re good to go!
Driving at night is when the hazard perception part of your theory test comes in really useful. In the dark, potential or developing situations may not be apparent until you are very close to them. In order to maximise your chances of avoiding getting caught up in dangerous situations, there’s a few steps you can take.
Think about where you are and thus the type of problems you are more likely to encounter. If you’re winding your way down a country lane, animals emerging from hedges or cars speeding around bends could be an issue. Conversely, if you’re in a built-up area, pedestrians running across the road or motorbikes weaving between traffic are the more common problems. Anticipating potential issues means you are better prepared to notice them in their early stages.
Perhaps you are making a longer journey which involves navigating both country and city roads. In these cases it’s really important to allow your eyes to adjust from well-lit areas (like cities) to darker rural roads. Such changes could affect your vision more than you think! As touched upon earlier, try to actively avoid looking directly at lights from oncoming cars—your eyes will thank you. You definitely won’t be wise to potential hazards if you’re too busy seeing spots!
As with any scenarios in which hazards are harder to notice, slowing down will give you more time to react. You need to find a good balance between maintaining a safe speed and not obstructing the progress of other drivers. Speaking of other drivers, the likelihood that some people could be tired or even drunk increases at night time. Thankfully this is not massively common, but it’s certainly something to think about when driving after hours.
Once the car’s prepped and you’re being eagle-eyed on the road, the final consideration is to not become a hazard yourself! The thing is, when driving at night it’s easy to get distracted or drowsy. Your surroundings are likely to be quieter and less stimulating, particularly if you’re in a rural area. We all know driving can be repetitive and even relaxing at times. Add to this the fact that the darkness signals to our brains that it’s time to sleep, and you can see how this can be problematic!
If you do find yourself feeling drowsy on the road, it’s best not to take any risks. Particularly if you’re embarking on a long journey, try to fit in rest breaks and let a lot of fresh air into the car. While it’s important to stay well-fed, remember that food can also make you sleepy, so it might be safer to stick with a coffee. At the end of the day, if you really feel tired, you should stop driving.
It’s quite easy to find yourself getting distracted when driving at night. When it’s quiet and other road users aren’t as visible, it can be tempting to check your phone or spend time thinking about things other than the road. Being inside a nice warm car when it’s dark outside can create a false sense of security. But that’s exactly what it is: false. In fact, despite there being fewer cars on the road, a significant number of accidents happen at nighttime.
Risky behaviour like drinking and driving is more common when the sun goes down. Even aside from dangerous habits like this, people may be tired and eager to get home. Both of these scenarios can result in rushed or reckless driving. Don’t fall victim to this behaviour yourself, and watch out for others doing it.
Tips For Driving at Night
- Use your headlights correctly and responsibly. Turn on your dipped headlights as soon as the light starts to change and use full beams when necessary. Remember to lower your lights to dipped if people are approaching.
- Avoid getting too close to other cars; your headlights will be in their rear-view mirror and could dazzle them.
- Keep your eyes moving and take in your surroundings to avoid ‘spacing out’.
- Plan your journey ahead of time. Following directions can be tricky, but don’t get distracted by maps. If you miss an exit, for example, do not let it affect your driving. Carry on and find another route or pull over when it’s convenient.
- Consider taking a Pass Plus course—it includes a section dedicated to night time driving that will boost your confidence in this area.
We hope this information helps you understand why driving at night requires different considerations and techniques. It’s definitely not to be feared or avoided, though! In fact, the changing light can make journeys more enjoyable. The roads tend to be emptier and you can stay alert by challenging yourself to spot potential hazards. No matter your favourite time to drive, make sure you’re prepared for all conditions—that way nothing can faze you!
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