There's no doubt that driving in the dark is more dangerous, and with the Christmas holidays fast approaching, we’re certain to see more vehicles on the roads, and more vehicles driving at night in an attempt to avoid holiday queues. Driving in the dark has its fair share of challenges, so we’ve put together some helpful tips to keep you and other motorists safe.
Use your lights carefully
It’s illegal to drive at night without properly functioning front and rear lights, so make routine checks to ensure your lights are all working as they should. If you find that a bulb needs changing, get it done as soon as possible to avoid being stopped by the police, or becoming a danger on our roads. Remember bulbs can blow at any time, even on your drive home from getting a Warrant of Fitness.
You should use your full beam as required, such as on unlit rural roads to help you see the road layout more clearly, but if you encounter another vehicle, switch back to dipped beam straightaway so that you don’t dazzle them. We have all experienced unscrupulous drivers who have failed to dip their lights - not only is it annoying, it’s highly dangerous.
The New Zealand Road Code states you must turn on your vehicle's headlights:
- 30 minutes after sunset on one day, until 30 minutes before sunrise on the next day.
- At any other time when you can't clearly see a person or vehicle 100 metres away.
Be prepared for glare
To prevent yourself from being dazzled, never look directly at the headlights of other cars. The glare can temporarily impair your vision, making you more likely to panic and lose your bearings.
If you have been struck by severe glare look to the left-hand side of the road and follow the white line marking the edge if there is one, so you can keep track of your position. If the glare is so bad that you can’t see a thing, slow down moderately and avoid slamming on your brakes. The last thing you need is the vehicle behind smashing into you, who may also be experiencing excessive glare.
Condensation or dust and grime on the inside of your windows and dirt on the outside can also add to impaired visibility, so it’s important to take time to clean them before setting off. Windscreens are particularly susceptible to steaming up on the inside, especially in colder or humid weather; remember that car heaters can blow dirty air at the glass, causing a hazy film to build up on the inside. This can increase glare from oncoming headlamps. If fitted, using the car’s air-conditioning and directing the air-flow onto the windscreen will clear condensation very quickly. Also ensuring the inside glass all around the car is regularly cleaned with a glass cleaner will help and don’t forget to make sure your window washer bottle is topped up and suitable washer additive used.
Don’t drive drowsy
If you are feeling drowsy, don’t get behind the wheel. Despite there being less traffic, the reduced visibility can make driving far more draining. Driving tired makes you a danger to yourself and other road users; so if you start to feel drowsy, stop and take a break.
If you’re heading off on a long journey that involves driving through the night, make sure you plan some rest stops where you can have light snacks to help you stay alert at least every couple of hours.
Night life essentials
Every driver should be prepared in case of emergency. A torch is very useful if you suffer a breakdown at night and need to inspect your vehicle’s engine or change a tyre. Even better – a head torch can free up your hands, despite not being an ultimate fashion accessory.
In case you get stranded or need to wait for assistance, it’s advisable to keep a blanket or warm clothing in the boot. It’s also a good idea to keep your mobile charged where possible.
If you do break down, find a safe, well-lit place to stop and leave your hazard warning lights and parking lights on while waiting for help.