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Shorter days means driving after dark becomes more difficult, writes Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Authority


Are you someone who hates driving at night? The main reasons for this often stem from lack of experience and confidence. I’ve even heard some people tell me that they have ‘night-time blindness’.

Night-time blindness can include difficulty in seeing in dark or low-light situations or your eyes may need more time to adjust after you go from a brightly lit place to a darker one.

I spoke to the National Office for Traffic Medicine in the Royal College of Physicians for their advice on night-time blindness. They suggest that difficulty with sight in dark light situations could be the result of underlying problems with a person’s eyesight.

So if you have difficulty with your eyesight while driving at night, have a history of poor night vision, whether it’s something recent or long-standing, you should see an optician and get an expert medial opinion.

Here are some top tips for driving at night . . .

Get your eyesight tested

You should get your eyesight tested regularly to catch emerging sight problems early on. This is particularly important for night-time driving situations, where sometimes people can have difficulty in seeing in dark or low-light situations.

Always allow for time for your eyesight to adjust

If you are starting a night-time journey, give time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness.

Check your lights, mirrors and tyres before each journey

It goes without saying, you really do need to make sure all lights, reflectors and indicators are clean and working properly. You cannot expect to get a good view of what’s in front of you if the beam on your headlights is reduced because a film of grime coats the lens. Equally, a broken light will reduce your ability to see and be seen. A broken headlight, is not only an offence, you could be mistaken for a motorcycle.

Never misuse your fog lights

Using your fog lights at night when there is no fog or snow is an offence. Rather than directing your eyes to look ahead to the limit point of the headlights in the distance, misuse of fog lights at night will draw your eyes onto the road space immediately in front of the vehicle. So you won’t be reading the road ahead of you or getting advance warning of any hazards.

Drive at an appropriate speed

The golden rule when it comes to driving at night is to always drive at a speed at which you can stop within the distance you see to be clear. At night this also means within the distance covered by your lights. Generally drivers need to compensate for lower light levels by driving slower. That will give you more time to see and react to danger.

Keep lights properly adjusted

If you can see either white or red lights ahead, be sure to dip your own main beam. On approach to left bends dip your lights earlier as the angle of the beam can severely dazzle an oncoming driver.

Slow down or pull in and stop if needed if dazzled by oncoming lights

If dazzled by oncoming lights, slow down and stop if necessary. It may help to avert your eyes towards the left side of the roadway, but not for prolonged periods. If you are blinded by lights from a vehicle behind, use the night-driving mode on your internal mirror. If dazzled by lights of an oncoming vehicle, do not retaliate by putting your own lights on full beam; things will only be much worse if neither of you can see. Take an extra glance into the distance on the left side before dipping your headlights. It may provide an opportunity to see a pedestrian, cyclist or unlit object that you might otherwise miss.

To avoid dazzling others, do the following:

If you are being overtaken by another vehicle, dip your lights to avoid dazzling the other driver. When stopped at the traffic lights or waiting in traffic or at junctions, avoid keeping your foot on the brake pedal – as the brake lights can dazzle drivers behind you

Keep an eye out for vulnerable road users

Also, watch out for cyclists and pedestrians, who can be very difficult to see at night, especially at dawn or dusk.

Remember to stop, sip, sleep

Research suggests that driver fatigue is as dangerous as drink-driving and could be a factor in up to 20pc of fatal crashes every year. It’s critical to recognise the symptoms and to take action before it’s too late. Pull in, sip a coffee or caffeinated drink, and take a 15-minute nap. After that, you should be fine to drive for another hour or so. Fatigue is the physical and mental impairment brought about by inadequate rest over a period of time. Ideally, people need seven to eight hours’ sleep every night. Drivers suffering from sleep debt are at risk of nodding off while driving and substantially increasing their risk of being involved in a crash. It is estimated that driver fatigue is a contributory factor in as many as one in five driver deaths in Ireland every year. Furthermore, tiredness-related collisions are three times more likely to be fatal or result in a serious injury because of the high impact speed and lack of avoiding action.

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