As a new driver, it won’t be too long before you find yourself driving at night for the first time. Perhaps you’re driving back from seeing a friend, or returning home from an evening class or gym session. Perhaps you’re the designated driver on a night out to the pub?
Your first drive in the dark can feel quite daunting. So how can you minimise the risks?
Ensuring that you are a careful, responsible driver at all times of the day will keep you and other road users safe – and may help to keep down your insurance for young drivers premiums. So read on for our top tips for safe night driving.
Driving at night: statistics and causes
The fact is, you’re right to be aware of the increased dangers of night driving. Road casualty statistics show that 40% of collisions occur in the hours of darkness, while in 2020 29% of all road traffic accidents occurred at night. These proportions of collisions and accidents occurring in darkness are relatively high, when you consider how empty the roads generally are at these hours.
It shouldn’t be hard to see why these figures are so high, as a number of risk factors come into play when it comes to night driving. Let’s take a look at those now.
Remember, new driver insurance from Smartdriverclub comes with 24/7 crash assistance as standard– but we still recommend driving with proper care and attention at all times, and never more so than at night.
The risk of drivers falling asleep at the wheel becomes significantly higher at night and in the small hours. Falling asleep while driving is the cause of 20% of serious accidents on motorways and ‘monotonous roads’ (roads with few changes to the environment, such as junctions and traffic lights) in Great Britain.
However, the main danger you’ll come across when driving at night is not your own tiredness, but the fact that you can see less of the road ahead. In darkness, our ‘forward vision’ – the distance we can see in front of us – is shortened, meaning that hazards will appear more suddenly, often as if from nowhere.
Your eyes will also take time to adjust to darkness after having spent time in a well-lit building – or when leaving a city’s well-lit streets for darker, unlit rural roads.
Even with your headlights on full beam, your forward vision is only going to be about 500 feet (or 250 feet for dipped headlights), giving you less time to react to hazards up ahead – especially when you are driving at higher speeds.
When driving in the dark it’s also harder to judge another vehicle’s speed and distance from you. Objects may be closer than they appear – or they may be travelling faster than you think. After a few years of driving, motorists will get used to these inconsistencies and make their own mental adjustments – but as a new driver, you will be less used to the tricks played by darkness, and you may be more likely to misjudge another vehicle’s speed or the distance of a hazard.
In the winter months, it’s also worth bearing in mind that darkness can begin during rush hour – and that these two factors together can make driving more dangerous. Recent analysis found that nearly a fifth of accidents occur during the evening rush hour (4-6pm), when roads are busy and motorists are tired and hurrying home.
In particular, the 10-minute slot between 5pm and 5.10pm accounts for nearly 15% of all accidents. During autumn and winter when the rush hour takes place at dawn and dusk, you can see why this becomes a dangerous time to be on the road.
Risks facing young drivers at night
Young drivers are a high-risk group when it comes to driving at night. This may be because, for example, they are driving for recreational, rather than work purposes.
They may have drunk alcohol or taken drugs. They might even be speeding to get to a gig, club night or other event on time. Or their mates in the back might be causing a distraction.
Young drivers will also simply have less experience of driving at night than their older counterparts. They may feel that, because the roads are emptier at night, it’s safer (rather than less safe) to speed or to give the road ahead less than their full attention.
The road safety charity Brake has found that drivers in their 20s testify more frequently than any other age group to driving over the drink-drive limit.
The problem here is that alcohol will seriously impede your driving. How so? A depressant, alcohol – even just a little, such as a half pint of lager – will affect your judgement, coordination and reaction times. It will also make you drowsy, reduce your visual clarity and even affect how well you judge speed and distance.
More dangerously still, alcohol gives you a kind of false confidence, where you’ll be telling yourself and your passengers ‘I feel fine to drive’ – when in fact you are anything but. Not only will this feeling convince you you’re OK to drive: it will go further than that, encouraging you to take risks that you wouldn’t when sober.
Given that feeling OK to drive after alcohol is no guarantee of actually being a safe driver – often the reverse – the best rule of thumb with alcohol is to avoid it completely if you’re planning to drive.
Drugs and driving
Both illegal and some prescription drugs can have a negative effect on your driving. Each of these drugs brings slightly different effects on your confidence, concentration, judgement, coordination and reaction – all the things that come into play when driving safely at night.
If you are taking any medication, always read the guidance before getting behind the wheel. And never drive if you’ve taken recreational drugs.
How can you drive more safely at night?
Fortunately, there are quite a few steps you can take to become a safe night-time driver. And, as well as improving your own safety out on the road, these measures may also help to bring down the cost of your car insurance.
Check your headlights are clean and correctly aligned
Safety while driving at night will begin with your ability to see the road ahead clearly. For this, you’ll need to ensure that your car headlights are both clean, and correctly aligned. This latter is especially important: headlights should be directed at the road ahead, rather than, say, directly into the eyes of oncoming drivers. This could be dangerous as, as well as impairing your own vision, you risk dazzling drivers coming towards you.
Headlights can become slightly misaligned over time, or after a heavy impact with a kerb or other vehicle. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to check their alignment and to reset them if necessary. This helpful article tells you how to do both.
Cleaning is essential, too, as even a thin layer of grime can affect the amount of light your car headlights are throwing out onto the road.
You also need to check, now and again, that your headlights – front and rear – are all working properly and replace any blown bulbs immediately.
Look away from oncoming lights
You need to keep your eyes on the road ahead but try not to look directly into the headlights of oncoming cars. You may get dazzled or drift into their path.
A good tip here is to look towards the left-hand kerb (or, if there is one, the white line at the side of the road) and to maintain a steady speed.
Get regular eye checks
It’s very important to get regular eye tests, to make sure that your eyes are up to the job of driving at night. In particular, if you find that you are sensitive to headlight glare from oncoming traffic, book yourself into the opticians.
Keep your windscreen and windows clean
Just as your headlights are the car’s eyes, illuminating the road ahead for you, your car windscreen and side windows are essential for your own eyes to get the clearest picture of the road around you. As a result, your windscreen and windows should be kept as clean and clear as possible, without mud, moisture or condensation impairing your view.
Did you know that not cleaning your windscreen could even land you with a fine from the police? If the dirt is impairing your ability to see properly, you could be charged with careless driving if you have a crash.
Drive more slowly
It’s harder to spot hazards and obstacles at night, so it follows that you should drive more slowly to maximise your stopping distances. If you do need to slow down for a hazard, try to avoid braking harshly, as any sudden stop or deceleration could cause the car behind to run into you.
Remember, your Smartplug device will record your braking habits. If it sees that you’re driving carefully, and braking gently and in good time, this may mean cheaper young driver insurance when you come to renew.
Have some extra headlight time
Give yourself an extra bit of protection by turning your headlights on before sunset and keeping them on after sunrise. The sun may still be up, or have just come up, but in each case visibility is no longer, or not yet, as good as it is in the middle of the day. So, use your headlights a bit longer to compensate.
Use the right headlight beam for the conditions
If you’re driving on an unlit road at night, use full beam headlights as they will help you see further up the road ahead. But remember to dip your lights whenever oncoming traffic approaches, as that same full beam risks temporarily blinding those drivers approaching you.
The more you drive, the more you’ll learn to read the road ahead for oncoming traffic. For example, a haze of light around a bend or at the summit of a hill may be from headlights of approaching vehicles. Getting this information early can be really useful in keeping you safe at night.
Watch out for pedestrians and cyclists, too. They will be harder to see in the dark. Plus, it’s night time, a time when people may have been out having fun. You haven’t been drinking, but that pedestrian ahead might have been – and they might not be as attentive to road dangers as normal. Pass them slowly and, if you can, give them more space than usual.
Switch off internal lights
Dim or switch off your cabin lights to reduce any reflections, and to stop internal lights distracting you from the view of the road ahead. Some cars will have a ‘night’ or ‘dark’ mode for dashboard instruments and screens.
Take regular breaks
Pull over for a rest, particularly if you’re on a longer drive. Breaks are always a good idea, but especially so at night when you are likely to be more tired and the driving conditions are more challenging. Take a rest stop every two hours, or more frequently if you feel the need.
Learn more tips for night-time driving
You might want to take the advanced driver training scheme known as Pass Plus. This contains a module on night driving, which will sharpen your skills for driving in the dark. Holding a Pass Plus certificate may also help to lower your driving insurance premiums.
Driving down premiums for new drivers
Here at Smartdriverclub, we know that, for young and first-time drivers, insurance can be a major expense.
Our Smartplug is easy to install. It will help us to calculate your insurance premiums based on your individual driving ability. So if you can prove you’re a safe and careful driver, you could see your premiums coming down.
Want to find out more about young driver insurance? Contact Smartdriverclub today for a quote.