There's a common misconception that it's much safer to drive at night because there is less traffic on the roads. However, according to RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), 40% of collisions occur in the hours of darkness.
It's true that there are fewer vehicles travelling at night, but the risk of suffering an accident also increases due to fatigue and decreased visibility. Driving in the dark is significantly more dangerous because vision is reduced and it can be more difficult to see vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
Six tips for driving long distances
Motorists can do a lot to reduce the risk of being involved in an accident at night. The most obvious way is to avoid it totally, especially if you are not a confident driver. The fact is that driving is best done during normal waking hours. In particular, avoid driving between midnight and 6am, when you are naturally sleepy. However, if there's really no option then you can take precautions:
Driving at night – vision problems
- Make sure that your eyes are examined regularly; as you get older, your eyes can change without you realising.
- By having regular eye tests, your optician will be able to spot early signs of conditions that affect your ability to drive, including cataracts, glaucoma and diabetes.
- It is illegal to drive if you can’t read a number plate from a distance of 20.5 metres. If you need glasses or contact lenses to see this far, make sure you wear them every time you drive.
- If you have cataracts but still meet the eyesight standard for driving, avoid driving at night or into very bright sunlight.
- Avoid tinted lenses or have them anti-reflection coated if necessary.
Driving past your 70th birthday
- Make sure your car's windows are clean - inside and out. Dirty glass increases glare from other vehicles and is also more likely to steam up.
- Check your windscreen wiper blades are in good condition and washer reservoir topped up.
- Make sure your lights (front and rear) are clean and working properly before you start each journey.
- If any of your lights are not working you should get these replaced as soon as possible. It is illegal to drive with a faulty lights (not just headlights, but brake lights and indicators too).
- Check rear lights by reversing up close to a wall or garage door to check whether the lights reflect, or find a handy window in which you can check your car’s reflection. Drive up to a garage or wall to check your front lights, or simply ask someone to help in both cases.
- Finally, consider buying a newer car if you’re running an older vehicle. Modern cars have daytime running lights and many have LED or Xenon headlights which are much brighter and improve visibility at night.
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Dealing with fatigue
- Falling asleep while driving is a significant factor at night and accounts for 20% of serious road accidents in the UK.
- Don't start a long trip if you're already tired - make sure you’re well rested before you head off.
- If possible, avoid driving alone for long distances. Share the driving, and support each other by watching for any signs of fatigue.
- Plan your journey in advance and factor in 15-minute breaks every two hours or 100 miles.
- Recognise early signs of fatigue. Your eyelids may get heavy, you may have trouble staying within your lane or it might be hard to remember where you have driven in the last mile or so.
- If you start to feel sleepy, find a safe place to stop, such as services on a motorway - not the hard shoulder.
- Get out of the car, do some exercise, stretch or walk. If necessary, drink two cups of coffee or a high-caffeine drink and have a rest for 10 to 15 minutes to allow time for the caffeine to kick in.
- Eating too much food isn't always a good idea, because it can make you sleepy.
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Night-time driving tips
- Don’t wait until it’s completely dark to turn your lights on - see and be seen. Use your dipped headlights both day and night.
- Use your full beam when you need the extra vision on an empty dark road. If you see a vehicle approaching you in the opposite direction you must dip your headlights as soon as possible.
- Adapt your speed to be able to brake within the headlamp range. It is advisable to drive slower than you normally would during the day.
- Maintain a safe distance leaving a margin of no less than three seconds between you and the car in front of you.
- If you're driving in heavy rain, large sections of road surface are often covered by water, some of it surprisingly deep, so slow down because you can lose control or damage your car if you drive into deep water too quickly.
- Ordinary puddles can often disguise deep potholes, so they should be avoided too. Exercise extreme caution if you reach a flooded section of road - the water may be too deep and you may have to turn back.
- Leaves can be a problem in the autumn because they can cover road markings and can make wet roads more slippery than usual – particularly hazardous in braking zones.
- The combination of fog and darkness can make it extremely difficult to see. If visibility is less than 100 metres, switch on your fog lights, but turn them off once visibility improves.
- Be prepared for the unexpected. The drop in visibility at night can lead to things just appearing in view.
How to drive through flooded roads
- If your car breaks down in the dark, try to stop in a safe, well lit place.
- Switch on your hazard lights to warn other road users and then wait in a safe place away from the vehicle to call and wait for the breakdown services.
- If you have any reflective clothing it's always advisable to wear this at the roadside.
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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.
The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.