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FALL . . . . .

WINTER . . . .

SPRING . . . . . .

SUMMER . . . . . .


Night-time Driving

It is with resigned acceptance that we greet the inevitable passing of summer. While cooler nights and turning leaves are merely signs of things come, shorter days can actually present motorists with some real safety concerns.

Although it's the same every autumn, it's still bit surprising how quickly night falls at this time of year. For many of us, both our morning and evening commutes will soon be cloaked in darkness, at least for part of the way.

The dangers of night-time driving include reduced visibility due to darkness and glare as well as an increased risk of driver fatigue.

Driving in the Dark

Ninety per cent of a driver's ability to react is based on his or her vision. Quite obviously, our vision is less than optimal while driving at night, forcing us to rely on artificial light sources. It is not only difficult to see any dangers or obstructions further down the road, but it is also more difficult to gauge the speed of other vehicles.

Even though it's common sense that reduced visibility leads to a reduction in reaction time, some drivers fail to complete the equation by reducing their speed to compensate for the increased risks. Speeding at night is sometimes called "Overdriving the Headlights." This is where a vehicle is moving so fast that if it were to brake suddenly it would be unable to stop within the distance lit by the headlights. For most vehicles this distance is approximately 100 metres when the high beams are on.

Under favourable conditions, the minimum stopping distance for a vehicle with normal brakes travelling 100 km/h is approximately 75 metres. Obviously, in rainy or icy conditions, this increases dramatically. In fact, a vehicle takes twice as long to stop on wet pavement than it does on a dry road.


Ignorant or forgetful drivers who fail to turn off their high beams are still the main culprits of road glare. There is more to the problem than that, however. Technological innovations that have been designed to increase one driver's vision may actually hinder another's.

The popularity of Sport Utility Vehicles means there are many more vehicles on the road with many more lights. Most SUV's come equipped with fog lights or other auxiliary lights at the front. They are designed to be used only during foggy, hazy, or misty conditions; at any other times they can be a distraction to oncoming drivers. Lights on SUV, by their nature, are positioned higher than those on cars. Headlights on a truck or SUV can be over 20 cms higher, in fact, causing many drivers to complain that the lights are shining directly into their eyes.

There is also a new breed of headlights that is provoking complaints. High Intensity Discharge (HID) lights were introduced in Europe five years ago and are now found on most higher-end vehicles. HID lights are radically different than the more traditional halogen variety. They do not have filaments. Instead, a high voltage electrical arch ionizes a particular type of gas. They produce twice the amount of light as halogens and have a distinctive blue-white glow to them.

HID lights or not, averting your eyes is the only sure-fire way of minimizing glare from oncoming traffic.

A dirty windshield makes all types of glare worse. Light, whether artificial or natural, magnifies any dirt, dust, smudges, and streaks, further obscuring a driver's vision. Regularly cleaning your windshield, both inside and out can help to reduce the effects of road glare.

Plastics inside the vehicle sometimes emit chemicals, which can build up on the inside glass. The windows should be cleaned once a month to get rid of this haze - more often if someone regularly smokes in the vehicle.

When cleaning your windshield it is a good idea to make sure the wipers are free from dirt and grime as well. Use a paper towel that has been dampened with washer fluid to clean the edge of your wiper blades.

It is also a good idea to clean the headlights themselves. Even a thin layer of road grime can block up to 90 per cent of the light making it even more difficult for a driver to see at night. A quick wipe over the headlights with a gas station squeegee will generally do the trick.

One of the most dangerous types of glare happens when the sun's rays hits a vehicle's windshield blinding the driver inside. The problem becomes more even more acute at this time of the year as the days get shorter. The setting sun is lower in the sky, casting long shadows, making it even harder to see.

Glare from the sun may also cause some drivers to run red lights. When the sun is behind the vehicle it bounces off the stop reflectors, making all three lights appear the same colour. When the light does change to red, some drivers may not be able to notice due to the sun's reflection.

As with headlight glare, a clean windshield can help to cut down on glare from the sun.


Not surprisingly, different people react differently when confronted with road glare. Middle-aged and older drivers are more sensitive to its effects because their eyes tend to react more slowly to changes in light levels. People with lighter-coloured eyes are also more sensitive. Some studies have suggested that vision-correction surgery may increase a driver's sensitive to night-time road glare as well.

The American Optometric Association recommends that everyone under 40 have their vision examined every three years; drivers 41 to 60 everyone two years; and drivers over 60 each year.


While we're all aware of that alcohol affects a driver's judgement, perception, response time, and motor skills, it also acts as a depressant, even in smaller quantities. So while a driver may not be legally impaired, even one drink can induce fatigue, particularly if he or she is already sleep-deprived or is driving on a sleep-inducing stretch of road.

Like pretty much every other part of the human body, our eyes are susceptible to fatigue, particularly so at night. Fixating straight ahead without moving the eyes in other directions will lead to eye exhaustion. Try looking from side to side periodically or alternative from near to far.

This does not mean, however, that a driver should at any time take their eyes of the road. At a speed of 100km/hr, a vehicle travels over 27 metres or 89 feet in one second. Given the distance then, it's pretty obvious that a lot can happen when a driver takes their eyes off the road for "just a second."

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