Top safety tips for driving in the dark
The clocks have changed from British Summer Time
to Greenwich Mean Time and the days are drawing still shorter as we trudge into
the winter months. In summer, we might drive for weeks on end without ever
using our headlights but commutes at both ends of the day will soon be
undertaken in darkness. But what should you do differently to stay safe in the
dark? Here are our top tips.
See and be seen
Let’s start with the obvious: lights. Put your
dipped headlights on before it is fully dark (or
when visibility is poor, such as in heavy rain). Luckily, many new cars have
automatic lights but it still makes sense to check they are enabled and they
have come on as dusk falls.
Cars and small vans from 2011 onwards are fitted
with day running lights (DRLs). These are for daytime safety, permanently
illuminating the front of the vehicle. However there is no rear vehicle
illumination making your car invisible from behind so you need to be aware and
switch on your headlights in the dark.
On unlit roads, don’t forget to use your high
beam when it is dark ahead and there are no oncoming vehicles. If another
vehicle does approach, remember to dip your lights promptly.
Don’t use fog lights just because it is dark or
rainy as they will dazzle other road users. Do use fog lights at night if it is
foggy and you are struggling to see beyond about 100 metres.
Even though driving with just sidelights is
actually permitted on roads with street lamps, usually in a 20 or 30mph zone,
it makes sense to use dipped headlamps all the
time in the dark because your car will be more visible. It’s also easy to
forget to revert to dipped headlamps when leaving a 30mph zone so you could end
up being both at risk and driving illegally.
If you have rarely used your lights over the
summer, you should check they all work properly. Some cars indicate bulb
failures to the driver with a clear message; others require a walk around the
vehicle (which should be done regularly).
Do keep your lights clean. As we approach
winter, the dirty water thrown up from our roads by other vehicles has a
tendency to dry onto the warm lamp lenses, ultimately reducing the lights’
Headlights should be properly aligned so as not
to dazzle other road users. They are checked annually at the MOT test once your
car is three years old but can be knocked out of alignment so it is useful to
check the pattern they throw on the road: they should cast light to the same
distance and be directed toward the pavement so as not to dazzle oncoming
Clean your windows!
Dirty windows will reduce visibility and smeary
windscreens can cause considerable glare. Use a good glass cleaner - even a
household product will work - to clean the inside of your windows.
Ensure the outsides of the windows are clean too
and that your windscreen wipers are in good condition. Also check you have
enough screen washer fluid and that its concentration is correct for the time
of year. Check the specific instructions on your washer fluid product; you may
need to use equal parts washer fluid to water at the coldest part of winter.
Winter is often accompanied by damp weather so
ensure your car’s air conditioning is switched on
because it has a built-in dehumidifier which will help clear misted windows.
Be aware & stay alert
If you walk around your house in bare feet in
the dark, you’ll tend to to it more slowly so you don’t stub your toes. You
should take a similar approach to night driving. Even in well-lit urban areas,
pedestrians in dark clothing and bikes without lights are all too common. Out
on dark county lanes there are added hazards of wildlife.
It takes about five minutes for a human’s eyes
to adapt fully to the dark. Your night vision will be reduced if you have your
car’s driver display and infotainment screens set brightly so ensure they are
dimmed or in night mode. Similarly, try not to stare into oncoming vehicles’
headlights as this will temporarily impair your vision.
As we approach winter, the weather becomes more
challenging. It tends to be wetter - so there could be heavy rain and
hard-to-see floods - and the temperature will be lower with the risk of frosts.
So while you are warm and cosy inside your car, be aware of the temperature
outside. Most cars give a warning if the temperature drops below three or four
degrees Celsius but it’s worth checking the weather forecast before you drive.
Look out for telltale signs of frost: if the gritters have been out and there
is fresh salt on the road, it is probably due to freeze.
Driving in the dark is a skill with additional
challenges. New drivers need to build up their experience and should consider a
Pass Plus course which covers night driving.
Fitness to drive
As people get older, eyesight tends to
deteriorate. Sometimes this can be corrected with glasses but it can still make
driving at dusk or at night more difficult - and therefore puts road users at
risk. At the first sign you are struggling to see as well as you should, have
an eye test and ensure you have the right glasses (some have an anti-glare
Prepare for emergencies
Even though your car will be warm, remember to
carry sensible clothing in case of a breakdown or accident. We’d recommend
carrying a charged mobile phone and torch too.
*Image credit: DVSA Crown copyright*
About the Author
Andrew is a freelance motoring journalist with a background in IT and the vehicle leasing industry. With a lifetime’s passion for all things automotive, he can be found behind the wheel of everything from vans to supercars. In addition to reviewing the latest vehicles and technology, Andrew also runs a couple of classic British motors. He lives at the edge of the Peak District with his son and cat.
Andrew Wright @theMotorWriter