My new job means that I’ll be commuting this fall in darkness – something I’ve been able to avoid for most of my years behind the wheel. Can you offer any advice on driving at night? – Stella in Chilliwack, B.C.
Stephen King and Bram Stoker aside, your fear of the dark is valid. Only 25 per cent of our total driving trips are taken at night yet, according to Transport Canada, this is also when 40 per cent of traffic fatalities occur.
However, here are a few things to bear in mind that can help reduce your fear and keep you commuting safely after dark.
The first thing to watch for, especially as it gets dark earlier, is the difficulty in seeing at twilight.
“Because the contrast is so low, it gets very difficult to discern shapes, so as the transition from light to dark is happening drivers have to be really careful about watching for things like pedestrians around vehicles because it’s still relatively early,” says Grant Baker, of Bestway Driver Training in B.C.
“When the contrast is low and people aren’t observing shapes as easily, they also don’t see movement as well, so that can be a real risk – especially with a lot of kids out and about coming up to Halloween.”
Another issue, especially in our rainier Canadian cities, is night-time glare. “You really have to watch those oncoming headlights,” says Baker.
“When faced with another driver’s headlights, it’s a good idea to focus your eyes down and to the right, away from the headlights, but still on the road, so that you don’t take the glare directly into your retinas – because that will give you spots in your vision and prevent you from seeing a little bit for a while.”
When using high beams, be mindful of other road users. The Ontario Ministry of Transport advises using low-beam headlights within 150 metres of an oncoming vehicle, and when following a vehicle within 60 metres. On country roads, switch on your low-beams when you come to a curve or the top of a hill so that you can see oncoming headlights and won’t blind oncoming drivers.
A dirty windshield can impede your vision by increasing glare. Because the buildup on the inside of the window happens gradually, you may not notice it until you’re in darkness and faced with the glare of oncoming lights.
It is important to continuously scan for animals, cyclists, and pedestrians. Your greatest defence against encountering the unexpected in the dark is reducing your speed.
Over-driving your headlights is a hazard highlighted by all of the driving safety experts I spoke with. “It’s when you drive so fast that your stopping distance becomes greater than the distance you can see,” says Baker.
“But you must understand that it’s not necessarily fast driving, because in different situations it may be very difficult to stop in a short distance. In other words, it’s driving too fast for your ability or the conditions of the road.
“It’s especially an issue at night where your visibility is so limited to the area that your headlights can illuminate, so you don’t really see all the possible hazards on the side of the road. So you have to use extreme caution compared to full daylight,” says Baker.
If you’re coming out of a lit garage or parkade into the darkness, give your eyes time to adjust. Also ensure your headlights and tail lamps are clean – and operational.