Driving at night is always a bit difficult. Even if you're not tired, the road starts playing tricks on you, and after a couple of hours you might start seeing a mirage in the brake lights of the semi truck you've been following for 100km. Thankfully, with a few slight modifications to your car, and some old driving tricks, you can make driving at night a more enjoyable experience.
Title photo by Yuya Tamai.
Not a whole lot of advancements have been made to make night driving any less cumbersome. Those yellow night driving glasses you've likely heard about? According to at least one study in the book Forensic Aspects of Vision and Highway Safety, they don't enhance your ability to see at night. However, you can do a few routine things to your car to make the night driving experience far better than a pair of sunglasses can.
Modify a Few Things on Your Car Before You Hit the Road
If you do a lot of night driving, or your gearing up for a big road trip, taking a few preventative measure before you hit the road will ensure your trip is a good one. Here are a few ways to fix your car up to make night driving better.
Angle Your Headlights Properly
Over time, your headlights get a little out of whack and you need to adjust them so they're pointing the correct way. Badly aimed headlights can blind oncoming drivers, cause reflections to distort your vision of the road, and make it harder to see in rain or snow. It's a pretty simple process to adjust your headlight aim (detailed in the video above), and it can make driving at night significantly easier. You only need to check your headlight aim about once a year, but it's worth it.
Clean Your Headlights and Windshield
Over the years, your headlights start to get a yellowish fog or haze around them. As you'd expect, cleaning your headlights increases the amount of light that gets through and makes it easier to see at night. You can pay about $20 for a cleaning and polishing kit from any auto parts store, or you can use sandpaper and polish or toothpaste. On severely fogged up headlights the difference in the light that gets through after a good cleaning is pretty incredible.
You also want to make sure your windshield is clean. It might seem like common sense, but having a clean windshield makes a huge difference to night driving performance. It's not just the outside of the windshield. Clean the inside as well. Chances are, you've touched the windshield with your hand when wiping away condensation in the winter or a little water has pooled up. When the windshield is a little smeared, it creates a halo effect around lights and makes it difficult to see (if you wear glasses you've likely noticed the same thing when they're covered in fingerprints).
Adjust Your Mirrors
Most of us know you can flip your interior mirror to reduce the glare from headlights behind you, but you can do the same for your side mirrors as well. If you're doing a lot of night driving with cars behind you, it doesn't hurt to angle your driver side mirror slightly down. This means you have to lean forward a bit to get a good view when changing lanes, but it also makes it so the car behind you isn't blinding you as you drive.
Tips for Driving at Night to Make the Ride Smoother
Once your car is set up properly for a night-time drive, you still have to actually drive the car. Everyone has a decreased vision capacity at night, but it's possible to correct for common night driving problems by remembering a few simple tips.
Watch the White Line
This is an old tip that's seemingly been around since cars first had headlights, but it's still a notable one. Just like you're not supposed to stare at the sun, do not stare at oncoming traffic. If you're on a wide open road, it's easy to keep your eyes straight ahead, but if you're on a winding mountain path, look down and to the left at the white line on the side of the road. This keeps you driving on the road and prevents your eyes from getting flashed by the oncoming traffic. It's a life saver when the oncoming traffic doesn't turn their brights off in time. Photo by peter castleton.
Keep Your Eyes From Getting Fatigued
After driving for a while, it's easy to get locked into that nearly zen-like state of staring blankly at the road. This is probably what causes those little illusions where it seems like the road is moving. While it's not easy to find other things to look at when you're driving through, say, the heart of Australia, most roads have other things you can look at along the way. Keep your eyes moving and look at as many other things as you can in the dark while still keeping them on the road. This prevents your eyes from getting fatigued. It's the same basic idea as the 20-20-20 rule for computer eye strain.
If your car has a dimmer for the console lights, lower the light level as low as it can go with you still being able to see your speed. This decreases the glare off your windshield and makes it easier for your eyes to maintain focus on the road. If all else fails, crack open the window a bit. If you're staring too long your eyes will start to water and force you to move them around.
Add Distance Between The Cars You're Following
Just because you're now an awesome night-time driver doesn't mean everyone else is. Pull back from your usual following distance to create a little extra room when you're driving behind someone. Not only does this help ensure you don't go crashing into them if they slam on their brakes, it also means you won't be blinding them with your headlights as you drive. If you're driving down a mountain, pull back even further -- your headlights are essentially at eye level and directly in the car in front's rear view mirror.
Driving at night is never particularly fun, but you can make it a better experience pretty easily. Have any tips of your own for avoiding the glare of oncoming headlights or forcing your brain into comprehending the road better? Share them in the comments.