As we head into the holiday season, many of us will go on road trips to see our families, and that means long trips, high traffic and at least a little night driving to go those last few miles to grandma’s house. Driving at night doesn’t just mean driving drowsy, it also requires some changes to accommodate animals, drivers and changes in your eyesight. These tips will help you get to your destination safely.
Adjust for Your Eyes
In low light conditions, our eyes detect lights and movement more than they detect colors and details like they do during the day. Moving your eyes around will help you detect objects faster than keeping your eyes focused on one part of the road. Our eyes also don’t work as well at depth perception in low light, so it’s important to give vehicles and obstacles extra space: that semi in front of you may be closer than you think.
While there are claims that yellow-tinted “driving” glasses provide better eyesight in low light conditions by increasing contrast, this advantage is easily outweighed by the reduction of light reaching your eyes. The only glasses you should wear at night are the ones you need for vision correction.
Make Sure Your Headlights are Aimed Correctly
Even new cars can have misaligned headlights, which can reduce your visibility and dazzle oncoming drivers. Instructions for correctly aligning your lights can be found in the owner’s manual, and can usually be done by turning a couple knobs or screws under the hood. The angle the headlights are at can vary depending on how much fuel is weighing down the rear end; adjusting the lights when the fuel tank is half full will give you the best beam pattern from a full tank to empty.
Reduce Visual Distractions
The fewer bright lights there are aimed at your eyes, the better your brain will be able to process information from dark areas. Dim your interior lights to a point that they aren’t distracting and try to look away from bright light sources like oncoming headlights and street lamps. If you’re facing an oncoming driver with their high beams on, try to focus on the lines on the side of the road.
Keep Your Lights and Windows Clean
Removing dirt, snow and ice build-up from your headlights, turn signals and tail lights will increase your viewing area and make your car more visible to other vehicles. If you have tail light covers, you may think about removing them before your trip.
While your windshield may look clean during the day, even a thin layer of dirt can create reflections at night. If your windshield is still smeared after cleaning, it may be covered in oils from off-gassing interior plastic. This residue can be removed with a magic eraser followed by regular glass cleaner.
Adjust Your Driving to Your Headlights
Speed limits are set based on daytime driving, but they may be too high for night driving due to limited visibility. To stay safe, make sure you can see at least four seconds ahead so you have time to react to road hazards. To check, focus on an object at the edge of your vision and count how many seconds it takes to pass your car. Using your high beams will greatly increase the speed you can safely travel, but don’t forget to dim your lights as needed to keep from blinding oncoming traffic.
While you may stop frequently during the day to get meals and fuel, it’s easy to get in the habit of driving longer stretches at night. Remember to take frequent breaks and move around: stretching and taking a short walk will help you stay alert.
If you’re drowsy, pull over and take a nap. 20-30 minutes of sleep is far more effective than using caffeine to regain alertness.
Watch Out for Wildlife
Deer are a serious danger on Wisconsin roads this time of year, and there are plenty of other nocturnal animals including raccoons and opossum that can cause considerable damage. Pay attention to the sides of the road, especially in the hours before dawn when these animals are most active. Be on the lookout for eyes reflecting the light from your headlights: they’ll be visible long before you’ll be able to make out the shapes of the animals.
If you do hit something, stop your car immediately to inspect the damage and see if your car is still safe to drive. Major damage should be reported to your insurance company and the police immediately, otherwise, there may not be enough evidence to make a claim.
If you do have an accident, and you’re in the Waukesha County or surrounding Lake Country area, bring your car to Merton Auto Body for top-notch collision repair. Our on-staff appraisers can aid in getting work approved, while our I-CAR and ASE-certified technicians can get your car fixed fast so you can be back on the road in no time. Have cloudy headlights? Our detailing crew can polish them back to their original clarity so you can drive safely when the sun goes down.