If you had to guess the most unsafe time of day for driving, you’d probably guess nighttime — and you’d be right. Even though only about 25 percent of driving occurs in the dark, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, the fatality rate is three times higher at night than during the day.
Lack of light — and therefore lack of visibility — is not surprisingly one primary condition that makes driving at night more difficult. Night driving doesn’t just put you at risk of crashing with another vehicle — 62 percent of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities occurred in single-vehicle crashes in the nighttime hours.
Still, we usually can’t avoid driving at night altogether. So we’ve compiled this list of the nighttime driving dangers you should watch for, along with helpful tips to help you know how to stay safe.
Speeding-related crashes are responsible for 37 percent of nighttime-driving fatalities. At night, your field of visibility is much shorter and you have less time to react: If you’re driving 65 mph, it will take you 276 feet to stop, but your headlights shine only about 160 feet in front of you.
What to do: Slow down and adapt your speed to the driving conditions.
Drowsy-driving crashes are most likely to occur between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., as well as in the early afternoon hours — consistent with our human patterns of sleepiness. Drowsy-driving crashes are more likely to result in injury or death, compared to other, non-alcohol-related crashes.
What to do: Don’t drive drowsy. Take breaks, sing along to music, have some caffeine, and don’t be afraid to get off the road to get some rest, even if it delays your arrival at your destination.
Not enough light
So many cars now have daytime running lights that people forget to turn their headlights on, and many drivers aren’t sure how to use their high beams (or don’t use them at all). A common problem: Not turning your headlights on during dusk or early morning hours. This time of the day has some of the lowest visibility, making it hard for other drivers to see your vehicle.
What to do: When driving in the dark, at dusk, or early morning, make it a habit to flip on those headlights. Use your high beams when appropriate — on open, rural roads when there isn’t any oncoming traffic. Also, be sure to have all your vehicle’s lights — headlights to brakes — tested once in a while to make sure they are working and are shining bright.
Too much distracting light
Glare from oncoming headlights can be distracting or temporarily blind you. Likewise, having too many lights on inside the cabin (including light from cell phones, tablets, or other devices) is distracting to the driver.
What to do: Don’t look directly at the lights of oncoming vehicles. While still maintaining focus on the white line, cast your gaze down and to the right. Teach passengers how to use dark mode on their phones, or make sure they limit the use of light-emitting devices and in-cabin lights.
A dirty windshield
Dust on the inside and streaks on the outside of your windshield can scatter light and exacerbate the risks of nighttime glare, decreasing your ability to drive safely.
What to do: Keep that windshield clean, using the windshield cleaner at every refueling stop. Also make sure your windshield wipers aren’t cracked or dried out, and that you have adequate washer fluid.
Alcohol involvement in fatal crashes is almost four times higher at night than during the day. And it’s not just alcohol that’s a problem: Drugs like marijuana, opioids, and illegal substances impair driving ability and contribute to crashes.
What to do: If you plan to consume alcohol or drugs, designate a sober driver before partying begins, and never let friends get behind the wheel if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you’re on the road, watch out for other motorists who may be driving impaired. Some of the signs include quick acceleration or deceleration, tailgating, weaving, and drifting or swerving in and out of lanes.
Navigating is a lot more trickier at night. If you encounter drivers who aren’t familiar with the area, they may be driving slowly trying to find the right exit or address. This becomes much more difficult in the dark hours.
What to do: Always drive defensively and patiently and give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. Navigating a new area is never easy.
Wildlife in the road
Wildlife are unpredictable, but there are seasons and times of day when they may be more active. Wildlife traffic is highest during dawn and dusk hours (which, incidentally, is when your visibility as a driver is lowest).
What to do: Pay attention to signs indicating wildlife crossings, and don’t speed or drive too fast for conditions. Look for the reflective eyes of animals, and if you do encounter one on the road, don’t swerve, and brake without locking those brakes up.
Do you need some practice getting more comfortable with night driving? Stop and Go Driving School’s instructors are expert at helping you learn how to drive safely in all sorts of situations and conditions. Learn more about our courses and contact us today.