If you are learning to drive, your initial experience with an instructor will have been during the day when conditions are less challenging. Knowing what to expect can help make that first trip out in the evening much safer and far more enjoyable.
The difference between driving at night and during the day is mainly the reduced visibility. To state the obvious, it’s dark. Even when there is sufficient street lighting, you will be aware that visibility is not as clear as when you have been driving during the day. Colours are not as easily discernible and contrast is less strong, with the edges of things merging putting an additional strain on the eyes. Add in a shower of rain and driving at night can be pretty challenging.
There’s also a difference between different areas when you are driving at night:
- Urban areas will generally be well lit but could have more traffic, particularly in areas like cities.
- Rural areas often have no lighting at all, not even cat’s eyes on the roads so extra care has to be taken.
Before you drive off into the night, you should make sure that your lights are clear of dirt and have a quick check that indicators, brake lights and main lights are all operating properly.
These have two reasons for existing – first to light the way in front of you and secondly to warn pedestrians and other traffic that you are on the road. Your lights have two different modes, dip and full beam. In most urban situations and roads where there is a decent amount of traffic you use dipped beams. Full beams are generally used on dark roads where it helps to see further.
Full beams can be used when there is no other traffic or pedestrians in sight. If you see a car approaching or someone on the road such as cyclist, you must dip your headlights. If you use full beam when road users are ahead of you then this could cause them to be momentarily blinded and could cause an accident.
The first part of your preparation for driving at night should therefore be learning where the controls for your lights are and ensuring you are comfortable operating them.
The key to driving safely at night is to be more aware of the potential hazards. People in the street are going to be less easy to see so you need to stay alert. For instance, you may get a cyclist on the road who is not wearing reflective clothing or does not have lights on their bike. Always check twice at junctions and before you move off in case you haven’t seen someone or something approaching.
Manoeuvres such as overtaking are much more dangerous at night than during the day. It is harder to judge distances and how quickly a vehicle may be coming towards you. The darkness ahead could hide bends and dips that you would easily see in daylight but not at night so you need to take extra care, particularly when on rural roads.
Although most of the driving we do is done during the day and there are many more road users around at this time, nearly half of accidents occur at night. As with any part of learning to drive, heading out at night is about learning the right set of skills and making sure you are aware of the hazards and know how to respond.