As the days grow shorter, many people find themselves conducting more of their daily activities in dark conditions. Driving at night poses a unique set of hazards. According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, night driving increases the risk of fatal accidents across all age groups — but especially for younger drivers. Here's what you need to know about the risks and how to keep yourself safe when driving down dark roads.
The Dangers of Reduced Visibility
Vision is significantly impaired by darkness, even for drivers with no visual impairment. Headlights offer less visibility than natural daylight, and drivers can only see 250 feet ahead of them — possibly up to 500 feet when using high beams. These lights don't track the road, so you have even less time to react to surprises when going around curves.
In low light, the brain receives less visual stimulation from the eyes, which means that drivers rely more on memory to “see” what’s happening. This results in misperceptions, according to Marc Lamber, an attorney with Fennemore Craig, P.C., in Phoenix, Arizona. Lamber spearheaded the firm’s Stop Distracted Drivers campaign and formed the Plaintiff Personal Injury Practice at the firm.
“The most obvious is visibility, reflection, and perception,” Lamber said. “As an example, it is more difficult to discern [or] perceive another vehicle’s closing velocity at night. So, you may think you have more time to execute a left-hand turn, and you really don’t. Also, if a driver doesn’t have perfect vision, the vision challenges tend to be more acute in dark conditions.”
Instead of helping, the glare of oncoming headlights can also cause problems. The contrast between darkness and sudden light can temporarily blind drivers and make accidents more likely.
Night Driving Puts Pedestrians at Risk
Pedestrians are especially at risk from hazards associated with night driving. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 76% of all pedestrian fatalities occur after dark. A pedestrian wearing dark clothing during the daytime is easy to spot but blends into the background at night. Pedestrians can see cars approaching, but may not realize that cars can't see them. The results can be fatal, especially since automatic emergency braking systems aren't effective at detecting pedestrians on dark streets.
Other Nighttime Driving Dangers
Impaired drivers make the dangers of nighttime driving even worse. It includes driving drunk or under the influence of drugs.
“More than half of drivers on the road after dark are impaired in some manner," said traffic safety expert John Langan, founder of the National Association of Traffic Accident Reconstructionists and Investigators. "Impaired drivers are four times as likely to be involved in a crash.”
Distracted driving is another leading cause of accidents. According to Langan, drivers using hands-free cell phones are just as likely to be involved in a crash as impaired drivers. At night, when there is less traffic, drivers may think a quick peek at their phone is okay. These lapses in judgment can be deadly.