Why should you drive slower at night, you might ask? It’s a perfectly valid question, especially this time of year as winter approaches and daylight hours become fewer and fewer. Rush hour now falls after sunset, making nighttime commutes even more frequent for many drivers. Whether you’re a novice driver or a seasoned highway veteran, nighttime driving can be a challenge, and it’s always a good idea to go about it with care.
Before we get into why you should drive slower at night, let us first reiterate that you absolutely should watch your speed and likely ease off the gas pedal any time visibility is limited. While this rule of thumb encompasses various types of extreme weather (rain, fog, snow, etc.), it most certainly does not exempt nighttime driving.
The reason is simple: A driver’s range of visibility directly impacts their reaction time, and lower visibility means a slower reaction time. In other words, when it’s dark outside and you can’t see as far, you won’t be as mentally prepared to quickly slow down or stop should the need occur (which, as drivers of every experience level will surely agree, it inevitably will).
In addition, and for obvious reasons, drivers are simply more tired at night. And tired drivers put everyone on the road at a potential risk. Even if you’re wide awake, be extra cautious on the road after dark as you don’t know the status of motorists around you.
It’s important to understand the risks associated with nighttime driving, but you shouldn’t let those risks deter you from hitting the road. It would, of course, be highly impractical to simply avoid driving in the dark for the rest of your life. What you can do, however, is take precautions to make your nighttime driving experience as safe as possible.
If you feel yourself starting to get drowsy behind the wheel, cranking up the air conditioner or playing the radio can help. But if you need to stop, then stop. There’s no point in putting yourself or other drivers at risk. If you’re driving long distances at night, don’t forget to factor in time for breaks. We recommend stopping at least every two hours to get out, walk around, have a snack and just refresh yourself. Doing so will help keep you alert behind the wheel and greatly reduce your chances of dozing off or getting into an accident.
Busy highways typically have drivers running around the clock, which certainly poses risks of its own. But relatively empty county roads can actually be more dangerous than highways at times, especially after dark. If you’re the only car in sight, it’s best to drive with your high beam headlights on to increase your range of visibility as much as possible (generally by 150 to 200 feet). This will also help you keep an eye out for deer or other animals wandering across or near the edge of the road. But be courteous if you see another vehicle coming in the opposite direction and switch to low beams until they pass. Failure to do so can be extremely distracting for the other driver and potentially dangerous for both of you.
You should also be conscious of the cleanliness of your vehicle, specifically your windshield and your headlights. It’s best to clean the dirt, bugs and grime off of your windshield as often as necessary (most gas stations have squeegees and cleaning solution readily available at no charge for this very purpose). Cosmetic reasons aside, a dirty windshield can increase the potential for glare from street lights or other vehicles’ headlights, making it very difficult to see at night. This is also true of any chips or cracks that your windshield has sustained. It’s important to speak to a independent auto body shop about windshield repair services, so your vision isn’t impaired or obstructed in any way.
Similarly, pay close attention to the cleanliness of your headlights, as they tend to collect dirt and gunk over time. Eventually they may even appear cloudy and/or discolored. Depending on the severity of the dirtiness, your headlights’ power may be greatly diminished, which will prevent you from seeing as far as you could otherwise. Various parts stores sell headlight cleaning kits, so you are able to keep your headlights clean and your view of the road fully illuminated.
Driving at night can be tricky and, in some cases, dangerous. But if you adhere to these tips and practice defensive driving tactics behind the wheel, you can greatly reduce your chance of running into a hazardous situation, so be safe and slow down.