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Nighttime driving—time to shift gears

It may come as no surprise that driving at night can be more challenging and carry greater risks. And in winter especially, when there are fewer hours of daylight and often difficult road conditions, it’s a good idea to review some simple tips to keep you and others as safe as possible.

Let common sense take the wheel

Whether you’re a young or more mature driver, there’s no denying that visibility is reduced when it’s dark out. And with that comes reduced depth perception, reduced colour recognition and compromised peripheral vision. If you can’t see well, then you don’t want to be going fast. So, the very first tip is to slow down and give yourself more time to react. Increase the safety margin between you and other drivers because distances can be much harder to judge at night.

Don’t be driven to distraction

When it’s dark out, it’s even more important to have your attention fully focused on the road, since obstacles can be more difficult to see. Here’s a little reminder of things to avoid doing so you don’t get distracted while driving at night:

  • Don’t look at your phone
  • Don’t eat
  • Don’t talk on the phone
  • Don’t do your makeup

Running on empty

And we’re not just talking about your gas tank! Driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of death. In Quebec, for example, the SAAQ reports that every year on average, there are 87 fatalities and 7,111 injuries attributable to driver fatigue. And due to our internal clocks, we may be more likely to feel tired at night or as soon as it gets dark out. If you’re behind the wheel and find yourself yawning a lot or are having trouble keeping your eyes open or staying alert, then the only real solution is to get off the road and pull over somewhere safe, like a parking lot or rest area, to take a break until you feel more refreshed. Stopping on the shoulder of the road should only be considered in emergency situations, as there’s a risk of collision with other vehicles. Don’t be fooled into believing that tricks like rolling down the window, singing or turning up the radio will work. The only safe option is to get off the road.

Shedding some light on headlights

Keeping your headlights and taillights, mirrors and windshield clean and in top condition is extremely important. Depending on the situation, use the appropriate headlights to see and be seen. For example, if a road is sufficiently lit, like in the city or a busy highway, use your low beams. If you’re on a road that’s dark, use your high beams correctly—that means switching to low beams when a car is approaching you from the opposite direction, when another car passes yours, or when you get within 150 metres from the vehicle you’re following.

If you’re driving and an oncoming vehicle has its high beams on, you can avoid temporary blindness by looking to the right of the road. If a vehicle is blinding you from behind, you can adjust your rearview mirror.

You should also minimize or dim the light inside your car, because the contrast between a bright dashboard and a dark road can be disorienting.

LED headlights provide better visibility, but they must comply with the lighting standards set by Transport Canada, so check before buying. Most new cars come with LED headlights, but those of older models can be upgraded, too.

Creatures of the night

Watch out for animals, particularly when driving at night. Because contrast is less pronounced when it’s dark, their bodies are much more difficult to see. Keep a lookout for their eyes, which will glow due to a reflective surface right behind their retinas. It’s your best chance of spotting them and avoiding a collision.

Keep your eye on the prize

Getting to your destination safely at night is always the goal. Make sure your vision is all it should be with yearly eye exams. If you wear glasses, an anti-reflective coating can help reduce glare. You may even need a different prescription for nighttime driving.

Be safe out there!

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