Bright lights, dark nights: tips for driving at night
Lots of people find themselves squinting when driving at night, either to avoid glare or refocus their eyes in areas where the lights are bright and the highway is empty and dark. However, that doesn’t mean travel has to be curtailed to the daytime. There are steps drivers can take to reduce the effects of driving in the dark on their vision.
Take the risk seriously. While drivers should always pay the utmost attention to the road, darkness makes it harder to see potential hazards. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Safety Council report that drivers are three times more likely to suffer a fatal crash between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Pedestrians are even more likely to be affected—they’re three to seven times more likely to be struck by a car at night. Darkness makes proper depth perception, peripheral vision, and color recognition more of a strain. That’s why it’s vital that drivers abide by the speed limit, maintain focus on driving, eliminate distractions, and follow these tips to make night driving safer.
See an eye doctor, if needed, and keep prescriptions current. Matthew Council, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Saint Louis University, explained that it’s normal for drivers to have a little trouble refocusing when moving from bright areas to dark and vice versa. However, if you’re experiencing additional difficulty or notice that night driving is becoming harder, it’s time to see an eye doctor. Some people with astigmatism, a change in the eye’s shape that causes nearsightedness, don’t have trouble seeing during the day. Once it gets dark, though, humans become just a little more nearsighted, and that can mean a prescription is needed or should be updated.
Cataracts can be another factor, as poor night vision is often one of the first symptoms, especially if the light from oncoming cars is bothering you. An eye doctor can assess whether astigmatism, cataracts, dry eyes, or a variety of other conditions are impacting your ability to drive at night. “The time to see an ophthalmologist is when you find that your vision isn’t meeting your needs,” Council recommended.
Optimize your vehicle for night driving. Popular Mechanics recommends several ways drivers can get their cars in the best possible shape for driving at night. Headlights should be aimed evenly and pointed high enough to illuminate the road in front of you as much as possible. If the lenses covering headlights are faded or yellowed, a headlight polish kit can fix them right up. “Just make sure those newly aimed lights are not blinding oncoming traffic,” the magazine stresses.
Reducing the brightness of your dashboard lights can help lower the contrast between your interior controls and the darkness outside. Polish the glass of your windshield, inside and outside, with newspaper to remove streaks or residue—these may not be noticeable during the day, but can cause glare and blurriness once night falls. Consider adding fog lights to expand your field of view no matter what the weather, and be sure your exterior mirrors are clean and well-positioned.
Make sure you’re at your best. There are a few quick and simple steps drivers can take to make night travels safer. First, if you wear glasses, make sure they’re clean before starting the car. If you’re prone to dry eyes while in the car, prepare with some over-the-counter eye drops. Oh, and despite what Corey Hart may have told you, wearing your sunglasses at night isn’t a good idea, even those with yellow lenses that are marketed as improving night vision. The Sunglass Association of America found that they don’t improve vision, but they make people think they’re seeing more clearly and cut down on the light your eyes perceive.
Once the car’s moving, keep an eye out for the reflection from animals’ eyes up ahead, particularly in rural areas. Their eyes will be visible long before they will be, and you’ll be better able to avoid a crash if they decide to come into the road. For large animals like deer in the road, your best bet is to stop as quickly as you safely can. Swerving or trying to move around the deer can result in the animal following your headlights into a collision. Bright lights can be a danger for you, too. Avoid mindlessly staring at bright signs or squinting into high beams. If high beams from a vehicle behind you are causing you discomfort, adjusting your rearview mirror can send a reflection back to the other driver, alerting them that you’d appreciate an adjustment.
After following these tips, you should feel better prepared for night driving. If you aren’t, no trip is important enough to risk a fatal crash. Ninety percent of a driver’s response depends on how well they’re seeing the road. Don’t be afraid to pull over or ask another driver to relieve you if you’re experiencing low visibility or your eyes are tired.