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The Hidden Dangers of Night-time Driving And How To Minimise Them

The peak of our vision really takes place during the day. That’s just how we’ve evolved. Because our eyes are receptive to light, we struggle to process visual information at night and this impacts on our ability to drive and make quick decisions at night. Even with the help of street lights and headlights, the statistics show that more fatalities occur at night. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatal accidents are three times more likely at night-time compared to daytime. These stats become even more concerning for younger drivers, with 16–17 year old P platers experiencing seven times more crashes during the night compared to their daytime rates. While these statistics are concerning, we’re not calling on people to abandon their night-time driving (we know this is some peoples’ livelihoods) or don night vision goggles, rather we ask you to take note of the following risks and incorporate some of the following advice if you see it beneficial.

Some Quick Considerations

If you are driving somewhere you are unfamiliar with, you should be alert and check if there are any potential dangers whilst on the journey. For example, keep an eye out for steep hills or sharp corners. You can check for traffic and road condition updates from your relevant state authority through a quick Google search.

Another tip is to just follow your gut. Intuition is a strong but undervalued instinct. Something doesn’t feel right? Turn around. Unfamiliar surroundings in the pitch black of night is comforting for no one, but if your intuition is telling you to abandon ship, you should maybe go with it. Consider if you need to drive or if you’ll be better off catching a taxi or public transport instead, if you feel safe to do so.

Committed to making the drive? That’s cool too! Now that your drive has been well-considered, here are 10 tips that can help minimise the risks of night-time driving.

1. Clean your Mirrors

Driving around with dirty or smudged mirrors at night is a serious risk. A smudge can distort light and make objects hard to distinguish. This is not only distracting but slows down the time it takes for you to process what is happening in your immediate surroundings.

Keeping your interior and exterior mirrors clean will prevent dirt from distorting your mirrors. It also reduces the glare from the headlights behind you, making it easier to know where cars are behind you, how close or far they are, and how fast they’re travelling. Also, always ensure that your mirrors are angled correctly so you can see enough of your surroundings. Avoid touching your mirrors to prevent oils and dirt from transferring onto them.

2. Tweak Your Inside Lighting

Have you ever tried to look out into the dark from a window when your lights are on? Not so easy, right? The same situation applies in your car – the more that light is bouncing around inside and illuminating surfaces, the darker everything appears outside. So, you’ll want to keep your interior and dash as dimly lit as possible to maximise your night-time vision and drive safely.

To keep your car as dim as possible, ensure no brightly-lit screens are in your driver or passenger seat. Your interior light should be off, and your dashboard lights should be on the dim setting (this is the setting for most cars when the headlights are on). You’ll be the best judge of any distractions around you – if you need to tell your friend to get off their phone, be bold enough to do so. You’re driving and in control of their life, so enforce necessary rules!

3. Have a Clear View

Vehicles are designed to strict specifications to ensure nothing obstructs your forward or rear view. Having a dirty, scratched, or chipped windscreen can compromise this safety precaution. Dirty or damaged windscreens can scatter light causing glare, which makes it difficult to see at night when passing other cars’ headlights and street lights. Older or weathered windscreens are also harder to clean – your windscreen wipers can only do so much. Increase your safety by getting your windscreen repaired as soon as any damage is found, and if necessary, swap it out for a brand new windscreen that is installed to last.

Another danger is having an obstruction to your headlights, which can get in the way of illuminating your path. So, how can you clean your headlights? It’s pretty easy – just pop over to your closest Supercheap and look for a headlight restorer kit, like this one. It’s the simple and affordable way to service your headlights and get them shining like new again. You can try DIY solutions like toothpaste and baking soda, but we find that these kits are far more effective.

4. Watch For Wildlife

Australia is all about the nightlife – and apparently many animals love getting into the action as well. This country is the home of many nocturnals (and animals that stay up past bedtime), so when driving at night, it’s important to venture carefully as to not take out a brush-tailed possum should it be attempting to hitchhike. If you live in the country or your journey requires you to take back roads surrounded by more bushland, you should be extra cautious. With no way to predict whether wildlife will wander onto the road, drive with your high beams on when possible, to give yourself plenty of visible distance.

Wildlife most commonly emerges around dusk, so this is the time to be extra cautious. If you see a large animal ahead of you on the road, slow down or stop if possible, to wait for the road to clear. Kangaroos and wallabies will jump around pretty quickly and haphazardly so you need to be super slow and weary.

5. Check Your Vision

While driving with a visual impairment during the day is one thing, night driving with poor vision is another. Depending on your eye condition, your doctor or licencing authority may not permit you to drive at night-time. If your licence stipulates that you must not drive at night, you should follow this rule as to not face penalties if caught. If you have an eye condition that affects you driving throughout the day, chances are this will undoubtedly make driving at night more difficult and dangerous.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest factors that affect our vision is aging – this is why many states require drivers over the age of 65 to pass a driving test when renewing their licence. To ensure you are taking the necessary precautions with your driving at night, the first step should be making sure you have an annual vision exam with your eye doctor. Your sight during the day may be fine; however, your doctor may recommend driving with glasses on at night to improve your vision. These days, glasses can include coatings and filters that enhance vision, particularly at night, such as anti-glare or anti-reflective coatings. One lens, however, that doesn’t work for night driving is the yellow-tinted lens. These limit light passing through and make objects and hazards harder to see, and hence should be avoided.

6. Utilise Your Defensive Driving Skills

Using common sense is incredibly important when driving at night; however, in high risk situations, you need to take it further – defensive driving is about responding to road dangers and minimising the chances of an emergency situation. As such, there are courses available in defensive driving that impart crucial skills and knowledge to young and inexperienced drivers or those looking to become proficient. Of course, on top of this, at all times it is important to drive sober and avoid distractions behind the wheel.

7. Slow Down

The faster you drive at night, the more chance you have of colliding with an animal, object or person you don’t see in time. Someone walking ahead of you can appear like a small silhouette at night – this is hard to spot even for those with optimal vision. If driving around busy areas, slow down and be extra observant. Always adjust your speed to the driving conditions and follow speed signs. This tip is especially relevant to our next point.

8. Drive According To Weather Conditions

Rain, hail and fog are conditions that can make driving difficult and dangerous. These weather events not only obstruct vision, but they change the conditions of the road, making it more slippery. Even new tyres have trouble gripping over ice and water, especially if there’s a bit of motor oil thrown in the mix. At night, these conditions appear even more frightening. Unless you’re absolutely confident you can handle them, it’s very much ok to pull over and “wait it out”.  If you must persevere, drive slowly and cautiously, paying extra attention to potholes, oil on the road, and any flooding. If you can’t see ahead of you – it’s generally a no-go.

9. Take Regular Breaks

Night driving typically means driving through bedtime – this causes sleep deprivation which, if severe enough, can force your body into a microsleep. This is your momentarily body shutting down. When driving for extended periods of time, and especially at night during your normal sleeping routine, take regular breaks. Pull over every couple of hours to refresh – you can stretch your legs, have a nap, or have a drink or snack. Regardless of whether you experience microsleeps or not, fatigue alone is a killer. It reduces your reaction time, ability to make decisions, and affects your vision. Pull over, rest and recover.

10. Drive Alert and Without Distraction

Recent research has found that 14% of all crashes involve the driver being distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle. Distraction is a major playing piece in the event of road fatalities, with the biggest distractions typically being other passengers and adjusting the speaker. In these two events, your attention is taken away from the road, which is a dangerous occurrence at night. Thankfully, avoiding these distractions is very doable: It may be as simple as turning the music off or down and asking mates to sit in the back if necessary. More than anything, these instances take a lot of self-discipline in not becoming distracted by the things around you.

Another concerning fact is that drivers using mobile phones and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) while driving are also much more likely to be involved in crashes. If you are using your phone for navigation, ensure that you are using a hands free system to keep it near your line of sight (as to avoid looking away from the road as much as possible) and avoid touching your screen as this can distract you from obstacles on the road. While using navigation, avoid sending or receiving text messages (unless voice activated) as this is illegal and extremely dangerous. To avoid the distraction of notifications all together, put your phone on “do not disturb”.

With these tips, you can ensure you’re taking all of the necessary precautions to avoid becoming the next alarming crash statistic. For more advice on windscreens, driving, and care safety, check out more of our articles updated regularly on the Novus blog.

Novus Glass repairs and replaces windscreens and windows, restoring them to their original condition and better. Using the latest in safety technology, Novus is equipped to service all cars – from older models to modern cars fitted with ADAS safety features. Contact Novus to book in a service today.