Safety Tips for Driving at Night
Nighttime driving presents a whole new range of challenges to road tourers including decreased visibility, reduced time to react, potential roadside obstacles and driver fatigue.
Driving at night can be hazardous, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right safety steps in place, you can safely enjoy the roads at night. As a result, we have created a guide to help drivers understand how they can improve their safety when driving at night. It's important to note that we don't recommend attempting 4WD tracks and trails at night.
Coping with driver fatigue
The Australian Transport Council stated in its National Road Safety Strategy that in Australia alone, 20–30% of all fatal traffic accidents are related to driver fatigue. The most common periods for these types of collisions appear to be between 2 and 6am, which are periods when most people's biological clocks tell them that they should be asleep. A person who has stayed awake for up to 17 hours actually poses the same risk of a traffic collision as someone who has a blood alcohol level of 0.05g/100ml, making them two times as likely to be involved in an accident as someone who isn’t tired.
There are two factors that make driver fatigue so dangerous. Firstly, when someone has gone a long period without sleep, they experience microsleeps – these are naps that occur suddenly and last for up to 30 seconds, which is more than enough time to veer off the road and cause a fatality.
Secondly, fatigue causes what is known as latent reaction times. This means that when a driver is tired, they don’t react as fast as they would if they were wide awake. When a split second can mean the difference between life and death, each one counts. Understanding the proper techniques to counteract fatigue is a fundamental aspect of responsible driving.
In order to cope with driver fatigue, drivers should:
- Get a proper night's rest before taking a long journey
- Limit road journeys to 10 hours a day
- Breaks should be taken at least every two hours
- In the event that a driver starts to become drowsy, they should pull over at the nearest safety point and nap
- Driving with the windows open can help keep a driver awake, but this technique should not be used as the only safety precaution
Getting your eyes checked
It's worth noting that drivers often remain oblivious to underlying eye conditions until these issues are professionally addressed. To proactively tackle this concern, it's highly advisable for drivers to maintain a consistent schedule of eye examinations. These routine check-ups play an instrumental role in the timely detection and potential resolution of any ocular issues that might arise. Nighttime driving becomes inherently riskier when you have any underlying eye conditions that hinder your ability to see clearly in low-light conditions.
It's all about the lights
When most people think about car lights, they picture the lights on the outside of the vehicle, but the lights on the inside are just as important and have the potential to impact a driver’s vision.
Dashboard dimmers should be used during night driving to maximise the driver’s ability to see the road by dimming them to the appropriate level to improve road visibility. Most professionals will recommend that drivers ensure they aren’t able to see the dashboard light source while sitting in the driver’s seat – if they can, it’s too bright. Reduce the brightness of your dashboard lights and employ fog lights when required.
Keep it clean
Regularly cleaning your windshield and lights will prevent glare and dirt from making it difficult to see the road at night.
Just as important is a headlight clean, which will reduce glare for oncoming traffic. This glare is created by the oil and dirt that begins to build up on headlights, distorting the light. This isn’t only important for traffic, but it will also ensure the driver is able to see more clearly.
Prior to setting out on a night drive, take the time to give your windscreen, windows and lights a thorough wipe down using a microfibre cloth.
Improve your aim
Even new vehicles can have improperly aimed headlights, and this will affect just how much a driver can see on the road. It’s generally worthwhile taking the time to make these adjustments, but a driver who intends on doing it themselves should be sure to use their owner’s manual for instructions. Check and adjust the aim of your headlights to include the whole road. Aim part of your high beam lighting to include the side of the road.
Additionally, aim a portion of your high beam light span at the side of the road. This will improve your peripheral vision, increase your ability to spot animals and reduce potential collisions with wild animals.
On a dark road during nighttime hours, high beams can significantly enhance your visibility. However, it's crucial to remember that oncoming cars may approach from the opposite direction. To maintain road safety and show respect to fellow drivers, be vigilant and switch off your high beams when an oncoming vehicle is within sight.
Animals in the outback
Animal strikes are a more common occurrence in regional areas than urban environments, with higher animal populations and the intersection of roads and open grazing areas increasing the chance of a collision while you drive. Animals are most active at dawn and dusk, which is doubled down by the fact that driving visibility is most compromised at these times of day.
Avoid travelling around dawn and dusk when animals are generally most active. Avoiding travel during these times is recommended, while directing a portion of your high beam above your bonnet line will let animals know you're coming while allowing you to see their retinas reflecting the light as you approach. If you're tracking a roadside animal ahead, consider slowing down, as kangaroos in particular can get spooked and jump into your path if you're not vigilant.
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