EXTRA VIGILANCE NEEDED: Driving at night poses many dangers to negligent drivers. Be vigilant and obey the rules of the road. Image: shutterstock ~ Shutterstock
Road-safety authorities agree that night driving presents unique challenges and presents an increased risk of death and injury. The US national safety council estimates that traffic death rates are three times greater at night than during the day.
Many drivers believe that there is safety in reduced traffic and are unaware of how to deal with the challenges of driving at night and sharing the road with those less responsible road users venturing onto the roads.
The most obvious way to avoid the dangers inherent to night driving is to simply not drive at night – and for long travels to use other forms of transport if they are available.
WHY IS NIGHT-DRIVING SO DANGEROUS?
There are many reasons for the increased risks. They include:
- Decreased visibility. Depth perception, colour recognition and peripheral vision are compromised after sundown.
- Elderly drivers, on the other hand, need more light to see.
- Vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and bikers are often not clearly visible to motorists and vice versa.
- Reduced ability to judge speed and distance at night.
- Sharing the roads with many drunk drivers and pedestrians returning from bars, parties late at night.
- Sharing the roads with tired drivers after a hard day of work or those who have been driving long distances.
- Vehicle lighting cannot illuminate very far, allowing little time and space to react and bring the vehicle to a stop.
- Wildlife venture onto the roads with these risks increased in areas where fences are broken or removed.
- Criminals are often lurking in the dark, placing objects in the road to cause crashes and rob drivers and occupants.
How can we make driving by night safer?
Not every risk is beyond our control. We can make informed decisions and with the necessary pre-trip planning and adjustments to driving behaviour we are able to make our driving at night safer!
Driver Fitness: Vision
• The most important aspect to consider is what we can see and how far we can see! If you cannot see you should not be driving!
• We must acknowledge that we cannot see as much and as far as we can during daytime, making our road environment more dangerous.
• We are dependent on artificial light hence our reduced ability to see road signs, vehicles, pedestrians and other hazards.
• We are also less able to pick up sudden movements quickly and respond to them effectively at night.
• Our eyes often take time to adjust from the wide range of light from pitch dark to strong light.
• Many drivers suffer from night blindness (nyctalopia). It's a condition that makes it hard to see in poor light or at night.
• Night blindness leads to decreased vision in poor light, peripheral vision problems and possible loss of central vision.
It's recommend that drivers go for check-ups, especially if they believe that they might experience symptoms of night blindness. The older a driver gets the more frequent these check-ups should be repeated. Age can make eyes more sensitive to glare and eye sensitivity could also be increased by medical conditions such as cataracts.
FATIGUE - A KILLER BEHIND THE WHEEL
Driver distractions, such as fatigue and/or alcohol, include reduce your ability to focus on the road at night.
Driver fatigue/tiredness/drowsiness make driving more difficult by reducing concentration and slowing reaction time.
Many drivers fall into a "micro sleep" where the driver unknowingly falls asleep for a mere second or two at a time. A micro sleep is virtually undetectable by a fatigued driver
Not only the body may get fatigued but also our eyes from staring straight ahead for prolonged period of time.
Alcohol not only impairs driving ability but also induces fatigue.
Not only other drivers may be impaired at night, but also many pedestrians cross or stumble onto roads while intoxicated.
Avoid smoking when driving as the nicotine and carbon monoxide hamper night vision.
Stay alert to the fact that even though you may feel wide alert, many others may not be!
• Do not start the drive if you have not adequately rested.
• Avoid taking medication or foods that make you drowsy.
• Plan ahead – it helps to have a passenger to converse with or share the driving duties.
• Try to avoid long trips in the dark - if this is not possible, scheduling regular breaks are important. Make • Frequent stops for light snacks and exercise.
• Do not fight your biological clock – If tired, stop and rest at a safe spot.
Using the Lights safely and effectively when driving at night:
• Do not delay using the lights – use them earlier rather than later to make yourself more visible to other road users.
• Always be careful with your high beams so you don't blind others and cause a head-on collision.
• Be considerate with use of full high-beams and don’t use them town.
• If an oncoming vehicle fails to dim their high beams be very cautious as to how you alert such a driver by flashing your lights.
• If well away from the oncoming vehicle and you decide to do so swiftly don't leave your high beams on in spite or to "get back" at the oncoming driver.
• Slow down if the other driver is blinding you with his high beam – it is not the correct response to match his mistake by doing the same. Think safety!
• If the oncoming vehicle does not dim their lights, look towards the left side of the road and try not to look directly at the oncoming headlights, rather, use your peripheral vision.
• Look at the lane marker as a guide then look quickly ahead to determine the other vehicle’s position. Keep doing this until you have passed the other vehicle.
• Be aware that oncoming truck drivers, seated much higher than you may be blinded by your lights much earlier than you are be their lights!
• When following another vehicle, keep your headlights on low beam to avoid blinding the driver ahead of you.
• Do not use high-beams when it’s foggy – they will reduce your own ability to see and may temporarily blind other drivers.
• If your vehicle is equipped with fog lamps, use them with your low beams only when there is fog or inclement weather and not for ordinary night driving.
• Fog lights though effective at cutting through fog can hurt the eyes of drivers if it's a clear night.
It is important to recognise the increased risks when driving at night. If we cannot avoid driving at this time we need to be well prepared and to adjust our driving to be more defensive!