Lack of light, compromised night vision, rush hour, impaired drivers and fatigue all contribute to making driving at night more dangerous than during any other time of day. In fact, traffic deaths are three times greater at night, according to National Safety Council research. Let's look at each of these factors.
When it's dark outside, depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision are compromised. And the glare of headlights from an oncoming vehicle can literally blind a driver temporarily.
Even with high-beam headlights on, visibility is limited to about 500 feet (250 feet for normal headlights) creating less time to react to something in the road – especially when driving at higher speeds.
What should you do to combat darkness?
Aim your headlights correctly, and make sure they're clean
- Dim your dashboard
- Look away from oncoming lights
- If you wear glasses, make sure they're anti-reflective
- Clean the windshield to eliminate streaks
- Slow down to compensate for limited visibility and reduced stopping time
Compromised Night Vision
Night vision is the ability to see well in low-light conditions. As we age, we have greater difficulty seeing at night. A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year-old. At age
60 and older, driving can become even more difficult, according to the American Optometric Association. Some older drivers also may have compromised vision due to cataracts and degenerative eye diseases.
The AOA recommends older drivers:
- Have annual vision exams
- Reduce speed
- Take a driving course; even experienced drivers can benefit from a refresher course, and some of the rules have probably changed
- Minimize distractions at night, like talking with passengers or listening to the radio
- Check with your doctor about side effects of prescription drugs
- Be honest about your ability to drive after dark and limit driving to daytime hours if necessary
Evening rush hour (between 4 and 7 p.m. weekdays) is among the most dangerous time to drive due to crowded roadways and drivers eager to get home after work. During the winter season, it's dark during rush hour, compounding an already dangerous driving situation.
How can you make it home safely during rush hour?
- Don't be an impatient driver; slow down
- Stay in your lane and beware of drivers who don't; anxious drivers dart from lane to lane
- Even though the route may be very familiar, don't go on autopilot; stay alert
- If you're in an unfamiliar area, consult a map before you go and memorize your route
- Don't touch your phone, and don't eat, drink or do other things that take your mind off the road
More than 30 people die every day in crashes that involve a driver impaired by alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Add to that drivers impaired by prescription medicines and other drugs, and that number goes up significantly.
The fact is, impaired drivers are most frequently on the road after dark – particularly between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. on weekends.
And here's a statistic for you: While drunk driving has declined by about one-third since 2007, the number of drivers under the influence of drugs has increased. Between 2013 and 2014,
22 percent of drivers tested positive for a drug that would cause impairment, according to a roadside survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Here's a tip:
- Just don't drive if you feel impaired
A National Sleep Foundation poll says 60% of adults have driven while they were tired, and another
37%, or 103 million people, have fallen asleep at the wheel.
It gets worse. Of those, 13% say they fall asleep while driving at least once a month, and 4% say they have caused a crash by falling asleep while driving. The reasons are many – shift work, lack of quality sleep, long work hours, sleep disorders – and it doesn't only happen on lengthy trips.
These staggering numbers are backed up by a report by NHTSA that 100,000 police-reported crashes are a result of driver fatigue. Most crashes or near-misses happen at the times you would expect drivers to be tired: 4 to 6 a.m., midnight to 2 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m., according to NSF.
What can you do?
The Transport Accident Commission offers this advice:
- Get a good night's sleep
- Take regular breaks every two hours
- Share the drive
- Pull over and take a nap if you're drowsy
- Be alert for other drowsy drivers on the road
Stay Alert, Stay Alive
While we do only one quarter of our driving at night, 50 percent of traffic deaths happen at night. It doesn't matter whether the road is familiar or not, driving at night is always more dangerous.
About 35,500 people were killed in car crashes in 2013, according to Injury Facts 2015. By taking some extra precautions, we can all contribute to reducing these numbers.