Driving at night is almost an entirely different task to driving during daylight hours.

It can be particularly daunting for newly qualified motorists and those who aren’t used to getting behind the wheel after sundown.

The challenges of driving in the dark are verified through road accident statistics. The latest figures from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) state that 40% of collisions occur during the hours of darkness. That’s a huge number when you consider that, for much of that time, far fewer journeys are being made.

Further statistics from the Department for Transport show that in 2015, road user casualties between the hours of 7pm-6am were as follows:

To make sure you’re safe and compliant when driving at night, we’ve explained why night-time driving can be dangerous and have put together some tips to help you minimise the risks when journeying in the darkness.

The dangers of driving at night

There are a number of reasons why driving at night is more dangerous than travelling in daylight. One of the main factors is the reduced visibility that motorists experience in the dark. The distance that drivers can see is shortened, giving them less time to react to hazards ahead. This is why it often seems as though hazards can spring out of nowhere during the night. Also, vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians can be much harder to spot in darkness, particularly if they’re wearing dark clothes. Even if cyclists use lights, they can be difficult to pick out if they are surrounded by cars with more powerful lights.

This hasn’t been helped by the fact that street lighting is being cut back in the UK. Research conducted by Confused.com suggested that more than a third of the country’s street lights are dimmed and 12% have been switched off completely.

Another issue that impacts driving ability during the night is the fact that it takes the eyes time to adjust between different levels of lighting. This problem affects older drivers in particular. As we age, our eyes become less efficient at responding to changing light levels, and many older people have problems with contrasts and colours in poor light. Between the ages of 15 and 65, the length of time it takes to recover from glare rises from one to nine seconds. This can make it especially difficult for older people to drive after sunset.

In addition, it’s harder to judge speed and distance at night, meaning that objects can be closer than they first appear or travelling more quickly than expected.

Tips for driving in the dark

There’s no getting away from the fact that driving at night can be challenging. Keeping safe on the roads should always be your number one priority and we’d recommend in the first instance to undertake a risk assessment. However, there are steps you can take to minimise the risk of accidents:

Don’t drive tired

RoSPA’s figures show that in Great Britain, 20% of serious accidents on major roads are caused by people falling asleep at the wheel. Of course, you could feel drowsy at any time when you’re in your car, but you’re more likely to if you’re driving at night, when your body naturally wants to rest.

To help ensure you don’t doze off when you’re driving, make sure you’re well rested before you set off. Don’t push yourself to drive longer distances than you’re comfortable with. You should also make sure you allow yourself a 15-minute break every couple of hours to stretch your legs and take a rest.

Adjust your speed

You should drive more slowly at night than you would during the day. Doing this will give you a better chance to spot and react to potential hazards ahead. This is particularly important when you’re moving from a well-lit to a low-light area because you’ll need to give your eyes time to adjust.

Lowering your speed will also give you more time to react to road users who may be behaving erratically. From drink drivers to people who are drowsy behind the wheel, you may be more likely to come across people behaving unpredictably when you’re using the roads at night.

Try to allow yourself extra time to complete your journeys, so that you don’t feel under pressure to drive too quickly for the conditions.

Ensure your lights are working properly

As well as being illegal, driving at night without fully functioning lights can be extremely dangerous. This means it’s important you regularly check your front and rear lights. Every bulb should be working, and the lenses should be clean. Any dirt covering your lights can prevent you from seeing clearly and make it harder for other road users to spot you.

You should aim to turn your lights on slightly before sunset and keep them on for an hour or so after sunrise. This will help other road users to see you in the twilight.

Make sure you can see clearly

It’s vital that your windows are clean both inside and out. Dirty glass makes the glare from other vehicles’ headlights much worse. So that you can keep your windscreen clear for the duration of your journey, ensure your washer fluid levels are topped up. Clean your exterior mirrors before you set off too.

You should also tilt your rear-view mirror down slightly so that you’re not dazzled by the headlights of the vehicles behind you. Try to avoid looking directly into the lights of oncoming vehicles.

More generally, it’s crucial to go for regular eye checks to detect any problems that could impact on your vision at night. Don’t be tempted to wear tinted or dark glasses for night driving, and if you use prescription glasses, it’s handy to have a pair with an anti-reflective coating.

Take extra care to read the road ahead

Whenever you’re out and about on the roads, you should always try to read the road ahead. Look out for signs of oncoming drivers, such as glimmers of light at bends and at the top of hills. Keep your eyes peeled for cyclists and pedestrians who may not be using lights or wearing reflective clothing. You’ll need to keep your wits about you if you’re travelling past pubs or clubs, particularly around closing time.

If you’re travelling on country roads, watch out for the reflections of animals’ eyes, too. Seeing these tiny bright spots far ahead can give you time to slow down and stop if necessary.

Keep your brakes and tyres in the best possible condition

Because it’s harder to see and react to dangers on the roads at night, it’s particularly important that your braking system and tyres are in the best possible condition. Having plenty of tread on your tyres and highly responsive brakes will make it easier for you to slow down or stop quickly if you need to.

Take extra lessons

If you’re lacking confidence behind the wheel at night, it’s a good idea to arrange extra lessons. If you passed your test relatively recently, you may want to take advantage of the Pass Plus training scheme, which contains a module on night driving. Even if you’re an experienced driver, you can still book additional lessons with an instructor with the specific goal of enhancing your night driving skills.

Receiving this extra guidance could make you a safer and more confident driver during the hours of darkness, so it’s a worthwhile investment.

Changes to driving laws in the UK

In February 2018, it was announced that new drivers may face restrictions when they pass, one of which would be driving at night. These restrictions could be imposed for as long as two years, until the driver has the necessary experience to drive comfortably in darkness.

The law has been dismissed before, due to driver’s reliance on driving at night for their work, but it is something that has been highlighted again as a means of reducing accidents on the road.

In addition to this proposal, there have been other changes to driving laws that you need to be aware of, so that you’re not caught out on the roads, like learner drivers having lessons on motorways.

Next steps

By being aware of the dangers of night-time driving and taking suggestions like these on board, you should be able to minimise risks when you get behind the wheel. When combined with poor weather conditions, driving in the dark can only increase risk of collisions and accidents. Have a look at our handy guide on driving in winter to make sure you’re covered in all areas.