According to National Driver Training, 62% of all traffic deaths in the U.S. occur at night–even though half as many drivers are on the roads. Of those deaths, about half were caused by vision impairment of some kind: fog, poor eyesight, inadequate headlights or road lighting, or other vision-impairing scenarios. To make matters worse, impaired drivers are more likely to hit the road at night: both those who drink and drive and those who are on prescription medications that impair driving ability.
The good news? You can take concrete steps to stay safer when you’re getting behind the wheel in the dark. Here’s what you can do to lower your risk of getting into a fatal accident.
1. Perform an Honest Self-Assessment.
If you’re too tired to drive, don’t do it. If you’ve been drinking and need to get home, call a friend, an Uber, or a cab. If it’s a foggy night and you know your night vision isn’t great, make alternate plans, or wait for the fog to lift. Taking a beat to consider whether or not you should get behind the wheel could save your life (or someone else’s).
2. Prep Your Vehicle for Nighttime Driving.
You can make sure you’re set for nighttime driving success by giving your headlights a tune-up and cleaning your windshield, windows, and external mirrors. Your headlights should be clean and free of dead bugs, dirt, or debris that will block light from hitting the road. If they look dull or foggy, it’s time to invest in a headlight polishing kit to restore their original clear shine. And if the lights themselves seem duller than they should, go ahead and replace them; some headlights (and tail lights) start to dim before they actually burn out.
Taking the time to polish your windows and mirrors can also make all the difference in your ability to see in the dark. Use a microfiber cloth, a newspaper, or another non-woven cloth to make sure you don’t leave streaks that will cause a blindingly distracting glare under lights at night.
3. Plan Your Route Wisely.
More accidents happen in rural areas than on well-lit, well-traveled streets. Even if you know a shortcut, opt for the more well-traveled paths to your destination when it’s dark outside. You’ll be more likely to see hazards before you hit them. If you’re driving somewhere unfamiliar, memorize your route before you go, or set up a GPS device so you don’t have to touch it while driving.
4. Make Sure Your Glasses or Contacts are in Tip-Top Shape.
If it’s been more than a year since you had an eye exam, schedule one now. Make sure that your glasses or contacts have a current prescription. If your glasses are scratched or damaged, get them repaired. If you wear glasses, invest in the antireflective coating to help reduce glare when driving at night. Keep in mind that as you age, you’ll need more light to be able to see as well as you once did; slow down when you’re on the road and take cues from your own vision, so you don’t out-drive your ability to stop by the time your headlights illuminate a hazard.