Navigating Safely in the Dark
The crispness of autumn has embraced the landscape. The leaves are vivid shades of orange and yellow, the birds have flown south in tight formations, and you are stuck behind a school bus that is flashing red — already a couple minutes late for a meeting.
We’ve turned the clocks back and embraced that extra hour of sleep like a prodigal son’s return. But that extra hour signals a new dose of darkness for your morning and evening commutes, again changing the rules of the road for a new season.
Traffic death rates are three times higher at night than during the day according to the National Safety Council. Reduced visibility at night poses a set of challenges that are much different from daytime driving. First of all, surroundings look different in artificial light. It’s more difficult to see pedestrians, bicyclists and hazards in the road. It’s also harder to be seen.
At the end of the day we’re tired, our eyes are fatigued and we are in a rush to get home. Add some rain, a dirty windshield or oncoming high beams to the mix and an evening commute could become a challenge for even the most seasoned driver.
Blinded by the Light
All drivers are required to use their headlights and have working tail lights and license plate lights during the hours between dusk and dawn. Smart drivers also use their lights during inclement weather that prevents them from seeing more than 500 feet ahead. If you’re not sure whether to use your headlights, turn them on, but on low beam. This will improve your vision and improve others’ ability to see you.
High beams can help you navigate dark winding roads, but they can also be a hazard to other drivers. You must dim your high beams when an approaching vehicle is 1,000 feet away. High beams are also a no-no when you’re less than 200 feet behind a vehicle going in the same direction you are.
Speed of Light
Many night drivers travel too fast and “overdrive” their headlights. Overdriving occurs when you’re going too fast to stop within the distance lit up by your headlights. For most cars, this distance is 350 feet with high beams. That means you only have 350 feet from the instant you spot a hazard to come to a complete stop. That distance shortens with rain, snow, sleet or fog. Remember, you can’t see as far at night, so slow down.
Night Driving Checklist:
•Prepare your car for night driving. Clean your headlights, taillights, signal lights and windows (inside and out) once a week, more often if necessary.
•Have your headlights properly aimed. Misaimed headlights blind other drivers and reduce your ability to see the road.
•Don’t drink and drive. Not only does alcohol severely impair your driving ability, it also acts as a depressant. Just one drink can induce fatigue.
•Avoid smoking when you drive. Smoke’s nicotine and carbon monoxide hamper night vision.
•If you’re in any doubt, turn your headlights on. Lights won’t help you see better in early twilight, but they’ll make it easier for other drivers to see you. Being seen is as important as seeing.
•Reduce your speed and increase your following distances. It’s more difficult to judge other vehicle’s speeds and distances at night.List Source: The National Safety Council