The hours of darkness are the most dangerous time to drive, according to the Highway Code. It is harder to spot pedestrians, cyclists and other road users in the dark, more difficult to judge speed and distance, and drivers are more likely to be tired at the end of the day. The road safety charity Brake found that road casualty rates increase when the clocks go back each year and the evening rush-hour takes place in darkness. However, there are various steps you can take to make sure you drive safely in the dark.
Check your lights
It is illegal to drive at night without fully functioning front and rear lights. Check they are clean and in working order before setting off on your journey. If you are driving a hire car or another vehicle you are unfamiliar with, make sure you know where the controls for the lights are located – and how they work – before you actually need to use them.
Plan your journey
Avoid driving overnight if you can or find an alternative means of transport. Of course, this is not always possible. If you must drive in the dark, planning your journey in advance can help to reduce the risk of being involved in an accident. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) recommends sharing the driving with others if you are travelling in a group. Don’t forget to make sure each driver has the correct insurance cover in place for the particular vehicle they will be driving. For long journeys, an overnight stop might be the safest option. At the very least, you should plan a break every two hours.
Fitness to drive
It is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The combination of drink or drug-driving and night-time driving conditions could have fatal consequences. Make alternative travel plans if you need to get home in the dark after a night out. Remember alcohol can also take time to leave your body so you may still be unfit to drive in the evening after drinking at lunchtime.
Tiredness at the wheel
This is one of the main dangers of driving in the dark, particularly between the hours of midnight and 6am, when your body expects to be asleep. Make sure you are well rested before setting off. If you start to feel tired while driving at night, this is a warning sign that you should take a break. Find somewhere safe to stop as soon as possible. Both the Highway Code and RoSPA advise that the most effective way to reduce the risk of fatigue over a short period is by drinking two strong coffees and taking a 15-minute nap. But this really is a short-term solution. If you still feel tired or you are worried about other effects of caffeine, you should stop driving and sleep until daylight.
On the road in the dark
Even if you feel alert, there are a number of things to bear in mind about driving in the dark.
- Lights – All sidelights and rear registration plate lights must be lit between sunset and sunrise. Use headlights at night, which is defined by the Highway Code as the period between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise. You should not use your lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. In a queue of traffic in the dark, take your foot off the brake pedal and apply the handbrake to minimise glare to motorists behind you.
- Visibility – Be extra vigilant when driving in the dark as potential hazards can appear out of nowhere. It can be harder to spot pedestrians (especially if they are wearing dark clothing), cyclists (whose lights are not as powerful as those on cars), motorcyclists (their single headlight often gets lost among car lights), road signs and other road users. Get your eyes tested regularly to check for any problems which could affect your night vision.
- Speed – Drive at a speed that will allow time for you to spot unexpected hazards and react to them safely. This means slowing down, even on roads which you know well and drive on during daylight hours.
- Overtaking – Take extra care when overtaking in the dark because it is harder to judge speed and distance. Other vehicles can be closer than you first thought or travelling faster than they appeared to be a moment earlier.
- Parking – Under the rules of the Highway Code, you must not park on a road at night facing against the direction of the traffic flow, unless in a recognised parking space.
Breaking down in the dark
Get your vehicle off the road if possible but leave the sidelights switched on if it is dark. Do not stand in a position where you will prevent other road users from seeing your lights. The Highway Code recommends that you wear reflective clothing if you break down at night to help other road users see you, so it is worth keeping this in your car in case you need it.
Driving safely in the dark
Always remember that driving conditions can be significantly different in the dark. It is harder to spot potential hazards, more difficult to judge speed and distance, and tiredness can take over. But by taking into account the tips outlined in this blog, we hope you will be able to experience safer night-time driving.
Sources: The Highway Code, RoSPA, Brake