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Learning to Drive

Night Driving

Driving a car at night time is very different to driving a car during the day time.

When you drive a car during the daytime it is much easier to see other vehicles, people or objects. This dramatically improves your ability to identify hazards early. You need to identify hazards early to reduce the risk of collision. At night time your peripheral vision is restricted. This is the vision that warns you of danger coming from the sides. Which is very important when driving.

When you stare at the road in front of you, everything to the left or right of your central gaze is part of your peripheral vision. We use our peripheral vision to warn us of danger approaching from the sides. The problem is at night time your headlights are pointing forward. Even with street lights you can only see a few metres to your left or right. This means you will not see something coming from the side until it is very close to your lane. Therefore you will have much less time and space to react to any hazard that enters your lane from the sides at nigh time.

It is also easier to judge the speed and distance of the other vehicle, people or object during the day time. When a car pulls out of a side street or a person runs out in front of your car. It is your ability to see what they are doing that allows you time to react and apply the brake. When your vision is reduced at night time this reduces the time you have to react to a hazard. Which reduces your chance of avoiding a motor vehicle accident.

Align and adjust your headlights

Therefore you need to make sure that your head lights are working properly. This includes having them adjusted so you can see the road in front of you. Over time your car will be affected by the vibrations from driving on the road. This includes your headlights coming out of alignment.

Step 1: Make sure your car is level as this will effect the direction your headlights shine. Remove heavy objects from the car and make sure that all tyres are correctly inflated.

Step 2: Choose a location where your car is on a flat surface such as a car park or garage. Position the vehicle 3.5 metres away from the wall (check manufacturers specifications for exact measurement). Remember to bounce the suspension on each wheel to ensure the shock absorbers and suspension is level. Then turn on your vehicles low beam and identify the section of the wall each beam strikes.

Step 3: Make sure the lights are level. Use bright tape to mark the spots on the wall with a cross that covers the diameter of the lights beam.

Step 3: Back your car up until it is about 8 metres away from the wall. Always refer to the manufacturers specifications to get the correct distance. Different cars require different distances.Turn the lights on and cover up one light. The brightest part of the remaining beam should be about two inches below and slightly to the left of the corresponding previous mark.

Step 4: Adjust one light at a time. Use the top screw or bolt to adjust the vertical and the screw on the side to adjust the horizontal.

Light bulbs do deteriorate over time. If your lights seem duller or not as bright replace the bulb.

Night Driving

Headlights provide limited light

There is no doubt that headlights help you see what is in front of you unfortunately they are no substitute for daylight. Transport Canada says that the low beam lights on most cars will allow you to see about 140 metres. Whilst you may be able to see more than this the beam from the headlight will be illuminating the shoulder of the road and not the lane in front of you. At 80 km/h you are covering 22.22 metres per second. According to the Queensland government:

  • a modern vehicle with good brakes and tyres is capable of stopping at approximately 7 m/s².
  • Provided you are on a dry road that is sealed and level which allows good friction between the tyres and the road to help stop the vehicle.
  • A wet road that is sealed and level has less friction between the tyres and the road which increases the stopping distance.
  • In an emergency the average person takes 1.5 seconds to react and actually brake.

A dry road scientifically has a coefficient of friction of approximately 1. Whilst a wet road scientifically has a coefficient of friction of approximately 0.70. Which is 30% less under wet conditions.

That does not leave you much time to brake assuming you are paying attention and you notice the hazard ahead of you it will take you 1.5 seconds to touch the brake. Then assuming you have a modern car in good condition, on a dry flat road your car is capable of stopping at 7 m/s².

Night Driving Glare

If you find driving at night time to be difficult you are not alone. Many people are affected by the glare of street lights and the headlights of other vehicles. In fact some people have medical conditions that effect their ability to drive at night time.

Also at night time the glare from the lights on our cars instrument panel or the street lights can distract us. This glare is magnified when it is raining. To reduce the impact of this make sure that your windows is clean (to improve your vision). You should also dim the lights on your instrument panel (this reduces the glare).
Night-Driving

The Basics of Night Driving

  1. Make sure the lights are working
  2. Make sure you know how to switch the lights on and alternate between low and high beam.
  3. Plan your journey particularly if you are inexperienced at night time driving. You do not want to get lost or be distracted trying to decide what lane to be in or where you should make your next turn.
  4. You must have your lights on low beam if the vehicle in front of you is less than 200 metres away.
  5. If there is a vehicle heading towards you and their lights dazzle you or distract you. Slow down and look to the left side of your lane to reduce the glare of the on coming light. Then position your vehicle on the left side of your lane. If you can not see properly you might need to pull over and stop.

Remember to check your speed when driving at night time. Your eyes have night vision cells that take over from your ordinary colour receptive cells that you use in the day time. This means your eyes actually operate differently at night time. It has been reported in science journals that objects detected by the night vision cells appear to move in slow motion. Which can trick you into thinking you are travelling slower than you actually are.