Driving at night can be a daunting task for new or even experienced drivers; the highest crash rates occur at nighttime (6:00PM – 6:00AM). Additionally, traffic fatality rates are three to four times higher at night than during the daytime.The danger arises from the fact that vision is severely limited (low lights decrease depth perception and peripheral vision and cause the pupils to dilate, often blurring vision), glare from the headlights of other vehicles can temporarily blind you, and it is more likely that people may be driving under the influence or be tired. Glare is particularly invasive since it can cause temporary blindness, dizziness, and confusion.
Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce and handle glare through use of specific techniques, strategies, and equipment.
- Clean the windshield, windows, and glass surfaces. This includes the car’s mirrors. Any streaks, road grime, or smudges on the glass refract light. Also clean the inside of the windshield, because plastic chemicals can slowly build up on the glass. If you have any glasses or contact lenses, make sure they are absolutely clean and scratch-free. Scratched and dirty lenses make glare worse. Clean the wiper blades using a paper towel and windshield washer fluid to remove the grime and oxidized rubber from the edge of the blade. This helps prevent streaks. If there are still streaks, it is probable that you will need to get new blades. If there are any chips or cracks in your windshield, have them repaired immediately.
- Clean the car’s headlights. Even small amounts of dirt on the lamp can reduce the light output by half and restrict your ability to see and be seen. This is especially true if you have HID (High Intensity Discharge) lights, because dirt diffuses the light from the lamp, causing glare that can be blinding to other drivers. If/when you have an annual inspection or you have a check-up at a dealer, car mechanic, or repair shop, have your headlights aligned. At least half of vehicles on the road have an improperly aimed headlight and sometimes even both are misaligned. Properly aligned headlights will not only help you see better, and will also avoid casting glare on other drivers. Older vehicles can improve headlight illumination/transmission efficiency by lapping or polishing the exterior of the headlights. As a result of exposure to road dirt, sand and road debris, the exterior of the headlights can become crazed, pitted and dull. Most auto parts suppliers carry a “lapping/polishing compound” specifically designed for headlight exteriors.
- Adjust the car mirrors properly. The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends this method for setting your mirrors: Lean to the left and rest your head against the window and adjust the driver side mirror so that you can just see the left rear corner of your vehicle. Then, lean to the right to the center of the vehicle and adjust your passenger side mirror until the right rear corner of the vehicle is just visible. This mirror setting reduces glare, blind spots, and makes it easier to identify vehicles on the side and rear. (Of course, if you are in a country where you must drive on the left side of the road – reverse the above directions.)
- Have your vision checked regularly. According to the American Optometric Association, everyone under age 60 should have an eye exam at least every 2 years, and annually after the age of 60. The older you are, the more sensitive your eyes become, but medical conditions associated with your eyes can also severely amplify the problem. If identified early, you may be able to get effective treatment.
- Almost one in three drivers reports difficulty seeing when driving at night. Raise any specific concerns you have with your eye specialist.
- Check regularly that your prescription glasses or contact lenses are up-to-date. Your eye specialist can help confirm this for you.
- Avoid looking directly at the headlights of oncoming traffic. Instead, look down and to the right. You should be able to gaze at the white line on the side of the road or where the pavement meets the shoulder. Use the right side of the road for tracking your lane instead of the left side. You will still be able to see other vehicles with your peripheral vision but the glare won’t bother you as much.
- Flip the rearview mirror. You can change the mirror to its night setting by flipping a small lever at the bottom of the mirror. Lights will still appear in the glass but they will appear much dimmer and therefore not be as bothersome.
- Take frequent breaks if you’re driving at night for long periods of time. Having a break reduces fatigue and gives your eyes recovery time. You should also take a short nap or a brisk walk to keep alert.
- There are self-dimming mirrors available from some dealers and automobile parts stores which reduce glare but allow for excellent visibility. These mirrors become darker as glare becomes brighter and lighten when glare diminishes.
- If you wear glasses, try getting a pair with an anti-reflective coating which reduces internal reflections in the lenses. These lenses do not block light––they actually transmit 8 percent more light–and improve night vision. Such glasses even help to distinguish very fine details during daytime.
- If these tips are failing you, try to drive less at night or drive only on routes that have overhead roadway lighting and clear pavement markings. Another alternative is to have someone else drive who has better eyesight at night, or have a passenger who is ready to help warn you of things you might be missing.
- Slow down when driving on winding or rolling roads at night. A sudden flash of headlights coming around a corner or over a crest can blind you and take you by surprise. If you’re driving slowly, you’ll have time to correct your surprised reactions or simply stick to your winding course safely.
- Some of the plastic headlight diffusers become cloudy and hazy in time and drastically reduce headlight brilliance and cause a yellowish color. There is a product made to clean plexiglass boat windshields that cleans the haze off easily. Apply a dab with a bare finger and rub it randomly until almost dry then polish it off with a cotton cloth (do not use microfiber or paper; they will eventually leave scratch marks).
- Avoid using “night” driving glasses, which are tinted and supposedly block glare. Actually, these glasses reduce the amount of light you perceive, meaning they reduce your night vision overall, not just glare.
- Never wear sunglasses at night. They restrict night vision and as you get used to them they will be less effective for daytime protection.
- Don’t install imitation HID lights, these are just tinted halogen headlights that usually provide less light than regular bulbs because of their tint. Instead, either use real HID lights or the lights recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer.
- An eye condition called astigmatism can make night driving difficult. Speak with your eye care specialist for advice.
Things You’ll Need
- Prescription glasses or contacts if needed
- Anti-reflective glasses
- Regular eye check-ups
Sources and Citations
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/pa_driversmanual/chapter_3.pdf Pennsylvania Driver’s Manual. Accessed 29 February 2012.