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Night Driving: Not Just Obnoxious, But Risky

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on January 16, 2019

We’ve all experienced the blinding headlights of an oncoming vehicle when driving at night. Your vision goes from slightly strained to obscured, as your pupils contract reflexively to avoid the stabbing pain of the headlamps. Slowly, your vision returns to normal, until the next car or truck passes you with a beam so bright it feels like you’re looking at the face of the sun.

It’s truly annoying, and an added danger when driving at night in the Seattle area. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has documented that driving-related fatalities triple during nighttime hours. This isn’t a coincidence.

Facts About Human Vision

Studies have found the human eye loses acuity in the darkness when it comes to depth perception, peripheral vision, and the ability to distinguish colors. In addition, optical blur and cataracts are common maladies as the eye ages. Drivers who have mild cases of these issues are able to see clearly enough to pass a vision and driving test during the day. But the same drivers demonstrated degraded vision in a night driving test requiring them to identify pedestrians near the roadway, according to Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science journal. In another article published in the same journal, it was discovered certain multifocal contact lenses do not provide the same quality and clarity of vision in the dark that they provide in daylight hours.

The Human Sleep Cycle

According to Professor Shantha Rajaratnam from the School of Psychological Sciences at Monash University, the biological clock in the brain is signaling for sleep in the nighttime hours. This instinctual drive can make drivers drowsy and impair their ability to react quickly and safely. In addition, she stated young people are more vulnerable than older drivers to impairment due to sleep deprivation.

In an effort to apply this information, Massachusetts restructured the driving privileges of under-18 drivers. The only night driving permitted was in the presence of an adult. One year after implementing this program, the number of drivers ages 16 and 17 involved in nighttime crashes dropped 19%, while fatal nighttime crashes for this age group declined 40%. With car crashes being the leading cause of death for teenage drivers between 15 – 19 years old worldwide, this is a significant decrease and something many other states (like Washington) should consider.

Tips for Nighttime Driving

While driving at night is rarely pleasant, it is a necessity for many people. But being aware of the elevated danger and practicing a few safety tips can be a great help in reducing the possibility of an accident.

  • Headlights are critical to safe nighttime driving. But when the light is not aimed properly, headlights only create a false sense of security. Your vehicle’s owner’s manual provides a step-by-step process on aiming your headlights to be effective without blinding oncoming drivers. If your vehicle is older and the lenses are becoming worn, there are polishing kits available at automotive stores, which can restore the clarity of the lamps.
  • New vehicles offer many more gadgets and features than older models. One of the drawbacks of these features is they emit light inside the vehicle at night, which causes glare on the windshield. Drivers can limit the light emitted from the dashboard by using the dash dimmer. Not only will this reduce the distraction of the interior lights, but it will allow the driver’s eyes to better focus on the darkened road.
  • Focusing on the roadway and not oncoming vehicles can reduce distraction and avoid the temporary blindness caused by the bright lights. The same is true for headlights in your rearview mirror. Do not stare at the light, and try to adjust the mirror slightly to keep the reflected light out of your eyes.
  • Even if your windshield looks clean in the daylight, it can appear smudged or streaked at night. Car enthusiasts know the best way to clean a windshield is with a sheet of newspaper, which absorbs any residue. This will eliminate the streaks you see at night and make your vision in bright light clearer as well. After wiping with newspaper, try to avoid touching the inside of your windshield with your fingers, as this will leave oil from your skin which can smear and attract dirt. Keep a microfiber cloth in your vehicle to wipe away mist or smudges between cleanings.
  • Fog lights are a standard feature on many newer vehicles, but if your car or truck does not have fog lights, you might want to consider adding them. These lights are focused to provide light near the front of your car, whereas your headlights are focused farther out in front of the vehicle. An additional benefit is that fog lights offer a wider light pattern and will illuminate the shoulder area or lanes adjacent to your vehicle. This can be helpful in rural areas where there is more nocturnal animal traffic.

Driving at night does pose an additional risk due to the way the human eye functions. As responsible drivers, each person should be honest when evaluating his or her own ability to drive safely at night. “I couldn’t see” is no excuse for making the wrong move or taking a risk that results in a crash.

If you have been injured in a collision and believe it was the result of someone else’s negligence, please call our Seattle car accident lawyers at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. We offer a free consultation to review your case, help you to understand your rights, and see what compensation could be owed to you. Call (888) 228-3860) today.

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