Mary Lou Jay
Dangers are lurking when you drive at night. The hours between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. account for fewer than 25 percent of total vehicle miles traveled, but more than 50 percent of driving deaths for those over 16, according to the National Safety Commission.
One reason is the decreased visibility at night and the effect it has on drivers' ability to brake in time to avoid accidents. A car's headlights illuminate only 160 feet ahead, according to the safety commission. But a car traveling at 40 mph will go 189 feet before it comes to a complete stop after braking. Add hills and road curves that are difficult to navigate even in daylight and you've got an even greater potential for a nighttime accident.
In addition, the human eye wasn't designed for nighttime driving, according to the safety commission. After sunset, we don't see colors and contrasts as clearly, making it harder to see obstacles or changes in the road. You also may notice that it takes a long time -- up to half a minute -- for your eyes to adjust when you've gone from a brightly lit area like a parking lot to a dark side street.
Nighttime drivers also often are drowsy drivers. Although teens and young adults may believe that they're nocturnal creatures, the fact is that humans are programmed to sleep when it's dark. It's unfortunately not unusual for drivers who've had a long day at work -- or a long night out partying -- to drift off when the road gets monotonous at night. Being tired slows reaction time and makes it difficult to concentrate, according to the National Safety Council.
Add in the typical distractions for any daytime driver -- talking or texting on a cellphone, petting the dog on the passenger seat, changing the radio station or trying to program the GPS -- and it's little wonder that the nighttime is a dangerous time for those behind the wheel.
You can decrease your chances of getting in an accident by exercising some common sense:
- Increase the following distance between your car and the car ahead, Weather.com recommends. It's more difficult to judge distance and speed in the dark.
- Reduce your speeds, especially on back roads where you're more likely to encounter deer and other animals. Use your headlights as a guide -- you should be able to stop within the area your lights illuminate, according to Weather.com.
- Keep your eyes and your mind on the road at night; if you get sleepy, stop and rest. Your odds of being one of those nighttime driving statistics go up significantly if you fall asleep while you're behind the wheel.
- Use your lights wisely. Keep your headlights on the low beam setting if there are other drivers nearby -- you don't want to blind them. Make sure your lights are working properly (get a friend to help you check them out on a regular basis). Don't wait until it's almost dark to turn on your headlights. Road and Travel magazine recommends turning them on at twilight to help other drivers see you.
- Avoid looking directly into an approaching car's headlights. Road and Travel recommends looking down and to the side (at the painted road lines) to avoid being blinded. Adjust your rear-view mirror to its nighttime setting (if it has one) to avoid glare.