Stage 3: Night Driving
Location: Low-traffic residential and city streets
Length of Lesson: 25-30 minutes
Driving at night is dangerous for all drivers, but it’s especially precarious for teen drivers. In fact, the nighttime fatal crash rate is about double that of the daytime rate for teenagers.
But, perpetually prohibiting nighttime driving is not the answer to keeping your teen safe. Obviously, you need to feel confident in your teen’s daytime driving abilities before you start working at night. If they’ve successfully mastered the skills required for Stage 1 and 2, they should be ready. If you’re looking for something more concrete, experts (including myself) believe that your teen should have 50-80 hours of supervised practice before attempting any night driving.
Short Practice Trips
Because night driving is stressful, keep your night practice sessions fairly short. You don’t want to overwhelm your teen.
The Risks of Driving at Night
There are several reasons why driving at night is so dangerous. Make sure your teen understands each of these risk factors. It’s also important to point out that every other driver on the road is also handicapped by night time conditions, yet they may not make adjustments to their driving to accommodate them.
Therefore, you have a situation in which every driver may still be driving as if conditions were perfect. Unlike snow, rain, or fog, in which most (but not all) drivers tend to make adjustments, nighttime is a hazardous condition that most drivers tend to ignore.
Reduced road visibility
Everything is more difficult to see at night because…well…the sun’s gone! Because bright street lights are focused on illuminating the road, buildings and landmarks along the roadside become nearly invisible. These items are especially useful in determining following distance and closure rates of oncoming cars. Basically, when the sun goes down, you lose many of your reference points. Without them, it becomes increasingly difficult to judge distance.
Your night vision is much worse than your day vision
While your teen may argue that their “young eyes” can see better than yours (which is probably true), there’s no arguing that one’s night vision is worse than one’s day vision. Although everyone’s night vision varies, the effects of reduced light upon one’s vision is the same for all of us. Namely, your peripheral vision is sharply reduced, your depth of field is reduced, and the low light makes it more difficult to focus on objects. Therefore, you may suffer eye strain from prolonged night driving.
Glare from headlights
The glare from the headlights of oncoming cars poses a potentially dangerous threat if you are to stare at them for too long. Also, some people suffer from night time vision problems in which bright lights are seen with a halo or starburst effect. To avoid being blinded by the glare, tell your teen to direct their vision slightly to the right of the oncoming vehicles. If you experience glare from cars behind you, make sure that you have set your mirrors to the BGE (blindspot and glare elimination) setting. This will help reduce glare from following vehicles. Also, make sure your front windshield is clean. A dirty windshield can amplify glare.
Many animals tend to be more active at night than during the day. They also tend to avoid crosswalks, so they present quite the danger. Our recommendation for handling animals in the road may seem a little cruel, but our job is to protect your child. Our job isn’t to protect the squirrel, rabbit, opossum, or deer that wanders into the road.
More people are drunk or high at night than they are during the day. There’s also more drunk and high drivers on weekends than weeknights. The best way to protect yourself from drunk drivers is to be on high alert for strange driving behavior. If you see erratic driving or a driver who drifts across the center line, increase your following distance. If possible, turn on to a different road.
Strategies for Night Driving
- SLOW DOWN! Just because the speed limit is 40 mph, it doesn’t mean you have to drive 40. Plus, the speed limit is an indication of the maximum safe speed during optimal driving conditions. Nighttime driving is a hazardous condition, so you should drive 5-10 mph below the posted limit.
- Four-to-five second following distance: Whenever conditions are not optimal, you should increase your following distance. A four-to-five second following distance will make it easier for you to respond to changing driving conditions.
- Make sure your headlights are clean and working. While this isn’t really a driving “strategy”, it’s a useful car maintenance tip. While it’s pretty obvious that you need both headlights working in order to see properly, most drivers don’t think about making sure their lights are free of dirt and grime. A nasty build-up of dirt can really dull the illuminating powers of your headlights.
- Don’t out-drive your headlights. This means that you shouldn’t drive so fast that you cannot stop within the area illuminated by your headlights.
Continue on to Stage 3: Checklist