Some of us find late night driving to be relaxing. There’s no real traffic, it’s peaceful, temperatures are far more pleasant and if you’ve got the right playlist you don’t even need a destination. But, let’s face it; driving at night could quickly go the wrong way if you don’t have your wits about you.
Many motorists absolutely despise it and those with poorer eyesight even flat out refuse to do it. Those oncoming high beams don’t do anybody any favours.
In South Africa, in particular, it adds a level of danger that many motorists aren’t too comfortable with. A hijacker, for instance, could be lurking just out of sight.
At one point or another though, we’ll all have to undertake a nocturnal journey.
We’ve gathered up some of our handiest tips to help you through it. After all, while there are far fewer people driving at night, most car accidents occur between midnight and 5am. There are many factors to take into account for this phenomenon. This includes the fact that our peripheral vision and depth perception is worsened at night, as is our ability to distinguish colour. We’re far more tired, prone to dozing off behind the wheel.
There just isn’t a lot of room for error, and as if we didn’t make things difficult enough for ourselves, we also have the drunkards on the road to worry about.
But hey, the time will inevitably come to head out into the dark, whether commuting to work on a cold winter morning, doing a late night snack run or taking on a road trip. So, it’s better to be prepared and develop confidence in night driving.
Don’t be a fool – that’s the golden rule of the road.
Don’t drink and drive, don’t drive distracted, don’t drive recklessly and don’t drive tired. Those rules should go without saying, and they're easy to follow. Just don’t do it.
There’s something else, though, which many people forget about the moment they get into their cars: Courtesy.
All motorists driving at night have passed another vehicle where the driver refuses to dim their brights. It’s blinding, awful and incredibly dangerous.
When passing another vehicle, it’s just good practice to dim your brights.
In this regard, following distance is also important. When following another vehicle, maintain a safe distance. The closer you are to the car in front of you, the brighter your headlights will be in their rearview mirror, the less chance you'll have to brake when they brake, and it’s extremely distracting.
If you’re not offered the same courtesy, stay calm and avoid looking directly into the headlights. Focus on staying in your lane by watching the side of the road instead, and only looking up briefly to determine the position of the other vehicle.
That said, there are a couple of other things you can do to increase your visibility at night. One of these involves your dashboard lights. If you have a newer car, there should be a dimmer switch for these. If you’re driving around at night with all that light in your face, you’re compromising your view of the road.
As a good rule of thumb, nothing you do when driving should limit the attention or visibility of yourself or those around you.
It’s worth taking a little time to clean your car. While this may not seem related to road safety at first, we assure you that clean headlights, taillights, indicator lights, windows and mirrors are all essential to a calamity-free night drive.
According to a tip by the AA, it’s a good idea to keep your front and rear windscreens clean, inside and out. Dirty windows increase the glare of oncoming headlights, so keep them polished and clear of residue. Newspaper, or a clean microfiber cloth, works wonders with removing oily streaks.
Similarly, dirty mirrors distort the reflection of the lights from the cars behind you and could produce glare in your eyes.
On the topic of eyesight, it’s also just silly to be driving around at night wearing tinted glasses. We know, that infomercial you saw on TV once said that yellow-tinted or polarised lenses help you see better at night, but any optometrist would tell you that they really don’t. If you do wear glasses, it’s better to get a prescription pair, from a qualified optometrist, with an anti-reflective coating.
The eyes of animals, fortunately for us, show up in the dark way before we see the animal itself. You’ll encounter many animals as you make your way down South African roads. Cows, sheep, baboons and a host of other creatures could make their way onto our highways. Learn to keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs – two bright little spots that show up in your headlights.
Best bet is to slow down, as a lot of animals tend to follow your headlights when you swerve.
One last tip, also by the AA, is to keep your eyes moving in order to reduce the effects of eye fatigue while driving in the dark.
It’s important not to be deceived into thinking that it’s safer to drive at night because there’s less traffic. As mentioned above, driving responsibly and looking after your eyes are key. So many drivers suffer from nyctalopia – night blindness – that it’s important to stay on the safe side.
Here are a couple of final things to keep in mind, just to round it off.
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