For those of us who live north of the Tropic of Cancer, December 21 marks the first day of winter and is also distinguished by having the longest night of the year. Unless you have nyctophobia — or an abnormal fear of darkness — the extra long night probably won’t mean much. But with more dim days and longer nights ahead, many of us will inevitably find ourselves doing more nighttime driving in the months to come.
Nighttime driving presents its own unique challenges and dangers, and according to the National Safety Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicular fatalities are 3 times greater at night than during the day. With that dark fact in mind, we compiled a few simple tips to help you avoid after-dark accidents:
- Inspect your lights. Make sure that your headlights, taillights, high beams, and signal lights are clean and functioning properly. Also, confirm that your headlights are correctly aimed (the driver-side’s headlight should be pointed slightly lower than the passenger-side’s). You don’t want to accidentally blind other drivers or reduce your ability to see the road.
- Use your headlights properly. Use low beams when encountering oncoming cars and when following another vehicle.
- Keep your windshield and windows clean. You’ll increase your ability to see and avoid being distracted by that dead bug on your windshield.
- Slow down and leave extra following distance. Depth perception is impaired at night, making it more difficult to judge other vehicles’ speed and distance. So give yourself plenty of time and space to brake safely.
- Use the road as your guide. If the glaring lights of oncoming traffic impede your ability to steer straight and see clearly, watch the right edge of the road and use it as your guide.
- Get plenty of rest. Our bodies’ circadian rhythms naturally prepare us for sleep, making us more prone to drowsiness as night falls. To avoid fatigue behind the wheel, make sure you’re well rested before hitting the road. On long drives, stop frequently to fuel up with healthy snacks and stretch your legs, and if you feel tired, pull over for a quick nap before continuing on.
No matter what time of night or day you hit the road, take care and travel safely.