Driving at Night
With the clocks going back, it's a clear sign that winter is here. As we make preparations to adjust our schedules to match the new time, there is one group of people that is most affected - drivers. For many of us, commuting during the dark season can be challenging. This blog post provides insights into why it is important to pay extra attention on the roads during winter and strategies for staying safe during your commute.
When we lose those extra daylight hours, most of our commutes are in the dark and this is the time when road users are particularly vulnerable, especially on unlit rural roads. According to a recent Department for Transport study just 15% of vehicle miles are driven between 7 pm and 7 am, but during that time around a third of all road injuries and deaths take place.
Tiredness and Fatigue
When the clocks go back, the darker mornings can trick your body into thinking it is earlier than it is resulting in even more fatigue.
If you drive when your body clock says you should be asleep, the most obvious hazard is reduced vision and being blinded by the lights of oncoming traffic. Drivers should take additional steps to stay alert on the road and also need to be more vigilant for pedestrians and other road users.
Another significant challenge that drivers face is the increased amount of tiredness during their commute. The less sunlight around the winter months affects the body's natural clock, which can lead to more fatigue. Indeed, numerous studies show that numerous accidents caused by drivers occur due to weariness or sleep deprivation. Therefore, it is essential always to stay alert and focused on the road.
Headlights and Glare
Bright headlights can attract your eyes like a moth to a lightbulb, leaving you dazzled afterwards and in those vital seconds, whilst your eyes re-adjust, you could easily hit an obstacle such as a cyclist, miss a junction or misjudge a bend and run wide. One study showed that a 65 year old might need up to nine seconds to recover full vision after being temporarily blinded by glare.
This is a growing problem with the increasing number of SUVs on the roads as their headlamps are set higher and more likely to shine directly into your eyes. One very effective tip is to look as far ahead as possible for anything like a cyclist or a road sign while you still can and then focus on the left hand kerb, just for a couple of seconds or so, while the oncoming car passes. You will be amazed at how much more quickly your eyes adjust afterwards. By looking at the kerb you will still be able to follow the direction of the road just without having to stare at on coming headlights.
Also, make sure to use main beam whenever you are driving where there are no street lights and it is safe to do so. Main beam will increase your visibility drastically so is a tool that should be used frequently. Just be sure to turn off your main beam when there is oncoming traffic so that you don’t dazzle anyone else. Glare comes both ways of course and remember that your mirror can be dipped with that little switch on the back if a vehicle behind is dazzling you.
Check your vehicle
As well as driving tactics, it's worth checking your vehicle before driving in the winter. You should ensure that the battery, brakes, windscreen, wipers, and lights are in good working order. Replace bulbs if necessary and make sure you clean your headlamps regularly as salt and grit can make them dirtier quicker than any other time of year. You don’t need to fork out for a 5 star-valet when a quick wipe with a piece of kitchen towel will do the job.
Checking that both headlights, brake lights and main beam is working is the best way to increase visibility when driving in darker conditions. It is important to ensure that not only you can see oncoming traffic but that other road users can clearly see you.
Also, make sure your brakes are in good shape to ensure you have effective stopping ability. When visibility is too it is much more likely that something unexpected could happen, in these situations having effective brakes could make the difference between you stopping in time.
Other important areas to check are your windscreen, side windows and rear windows. By keeping your car clean this increases your visibility from all sides but you should also wait for your windows to demist or deice before driving off into the dark.
Other Road Users
Cyclists and pedestrians should be equally as visible, kitted out with reflective clothing as well as bike lights and reflectors. If you can, sneak reflective material onto the cuffs, collars and the edges of coats for you or your little ones for extra visibility during the dark mornings and nights. School bags and neon reflective wristbands are excellent at adding that extra bit of safety to your journey and could be a big help at keeping your children safe on their way to school.
Take extra care while passing cyclists on the roads during the dark too, as you may not always see how much room there is to pass until you are close by.
Take your time
The basics of safe driving, including carefully observing potential hazards and fast reaction times, become even more crucial as the nights draw in. With less daylight hours as we approach the depths of winter, there is the potential for increased melatonin and fatigue – so if you start to feel drowsy behind the wheel, ensure you stop and take a break. Give yourself enough time at junctions to assess the presence of cyclists and pedestrians, to ensure in the low light conditions, you aren’t putting anyone at risk.
Driving at Night Top Tips
- DO focus on the left hand kerb just before an oncoming vehicle dazzles you.
- DO go back to main beam headlights as soon as it is safe.
- DO dip your mirror if the headlights of the vehicle behind you are too bright.
- DO take extra time to assess potential driving hazards.
- DO take extra care while passing cyclists, they may not be as visible.
- DO make sure to test your car lights, replace bulbs if necessary and make sure you clean your headlamps
- DON’T keep slowing down and speeding up in response to your vision being affected by other road users; it will annoy following drivers and can be dangerous.
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