Nighttime Driving Has More Risks Than You Might Realize

During the fall and winter months, the sun goes down earlier, and there are fewer hours of daylight to spare. This can impact your mood and be a drag, especially if you leave for work early in the morning and return home when it’s dark. If you’re in your car driving at night or while dark out in the early morning, it’s even riskier than driving during daylight. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as of 2019, the most fatal crashes throughout the week occurred between 6 pm and 8:59 pm. Fatal car crashes peaked Saturday night between 9 pm and 11:59 pm. On top of that, drowsy driving accidents are most likely to occur between midnight and 6 am. Lower visibility, increased headlight glare, and more people driving under the influence are all factors that increase the riskiness of nighttime driving. Read on for tips for driving your car at night safely. 

In Your Car, Driving At Night? Here Are Your Top Safety Tips | Metromile

How to drive safely at night 

Driving at night comes with many more risk factors, and when driving at night you should take extra precautions. Let’s review some of the reasons why nighttime driving is more dangerous and what you can do about it. 

Reduced visibility 

Unlike some of our furry friends who have stellar night vision, humans typically don’t possess the same qualities and struggle to see in the dark. In fact, millions of Americans have difficulty seeing at night, and may have what is referred to as night blindness. People who experience night blindness could have nearsightedness, astigmatism, glaucoma, or cataracts, according to The Atlantic Eye Institute

Major risk factors 

Reduced visibility comes with some major risk factors for driving at night, including:

  • Reduced depth perception
  • Reduced color recognition
  • Compromised peripheral vision
  • Temporary blindness caused by the glare of headlights from an oncoming vehicle

Tips to reduce your risk 

To reduce this type of risk, you can:

  • Get a vision exam to make sure your eyesight is good and make any corrections with glasses or lenses, as needed
  • If you wear glasses, make sure they’re anti-reflective to reduce glare on the road
  • Focus on the road ahead of you and avert your gaze from oncoming headlights
  • Aim your headlights properly 
  • Reduce the brightness on your dashboard to limit contrast, which can be difficult for your eyes to process
  • Keep your windshield clean and streak-free on the interior and exterior of your vehicle
  • Slow down and drive carefully to compensate for reduced visibility 

Rush hour and drowsy driving 

You’ve had a long day and you’re tired and you just want to get home. There’s just one thing in your way — rush hour. 

Everyone loathes the rush hour commute, but did you know that the hours between 4 pm and 7 pm are actually the most dangerous times to be on the road? Couple that with the fact that the national average time of sunset is around 4:30 pm in the winter months and you have a recipe for disaster. 

Driving in the dark can also trigger waves of fatigue in many people, especially if you’re already tired. Drowsy driving is also more likely to lead to fatal car crashes in the late afternoon, according to NHTSA. In other words, rush hour and drowsy driving can be a lethal combo. 

Major risk factors 

If you’re in your car driving at night during rush hour and while fatigued, there are numerous risk factors to be aware of including:

  • Bumper-to-bumper traffic (ugh)
  • Aggressive or angry drivers wanting to get home
  • Fatigued drivers who are acting carelessly
  • Potential increase in accidents

Tips to reduce your risk 

To reduce your risk in this case, you can:

  • Try to leave earlier or later to avoid rush hour traffic
  • Practice defensive driving and stay alert 
  • Check-in with your fatigue levels and pull over to a rest area, if needed
  • Take deep breaths to remain calm

Distracted driving

Driving requires that you remain focused on the road. Nighttime driving requires more of your attention as there are more variables that can affect your risk. That’s why it’s crucial to limit distractions. 

Distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents. One minute you’re driving safely, the next you check a text message or take a quick selfie for the ‘gram, and before you know it, you’re in a fender bender, or worse, a fatal car crash. 

Major risk factors 

Driving distracted in the dark comes with many risk factors, including:

  • Slower reaction times
  • Not being aware of surroundings or aware of other pedestrians, drivers, and debris
  • Impairment from the glare of your phone screen 
  • Not driving defensively because your attention is elsewhere

Tips to reduce risk 

To reduce your risk of distracted driving in the dark, you can:

  • Avoid looking at your phone while in the car (hide it in the glove compartment if you need to!)
  • Don’t eat, put on clothing or makeup, or talk on the phone while driving (it can wait, if not, pull over)
  • Consider blocking social media on your phone while driving 
  • Be aware of your surroundings and drive defensively 

Driving under the influence 

Unfortunately, driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances is on the rise. Many DUI or DWI cases happen in the car, driving at night. The NHTSA found that as of 2019, alcohol impaired drivers involved in fatal car crashes were 3.3 times more likely to happen at night than during daylight hours. That’s why it’s crucial to avoid drinking or taking substances that can impair your driving and be mindful of other drivers who might be swerving or losing control of their car due to alcohol or drugs. 

Major risk factors 

Driving under the influence has many major risk factors including:

Tips to reduce risk 

To reduce the risk of driving under the influence or coming in close contact with a driver who is:

  • Don’t get behind the wheel after drinking (even if you’re “just buzzed”)
  • Take a ride-sharing service or taxi 
  • Get a ride from a friend
  • Drive defensively and be on the lookout for erratic driving in others
  • Call 911 if you suspect a driver is drinking and may cause harm 

Top car + driving at night safety tips 

Nighttime driving has additional risk factors that can impact your overall safety. To recap, here are the top car and driving at night safety tips. 

  1. Put your headlights in the correct position when driving your car at night.
  2. Avert your gaze from oncoming headlights
  3. Make sure you have the right glasses prescription and that they’re anti-glare
  4. Keep your windshield clean
  5. Drive slowly and carefully 
  6. Check-in with your energy levels and avoid drowsy driving
  7. Leave before the sun sets 
  8. Try to avoid rush hour traffic by leaving earlier or later than the peak window
  9. Be vigilant on the road and practice defensive driving
  10. Keep your phone out of reach while driving
  11. Don’t eat, put on makeup or clothing, or talk on the phone while driving
  12. Be aware of surroundings and watch for distracted or erratic driving
  13. Don’t drink and drive or use substances (seriously, it’s not worth it)
  14. Use a ride-sharing service or take a taxi
  15. Have a friend be the designated driver
  16. Be on the lookout for drunk drivers and keep your distance
  17. Call 911 if you see a drunk driver placing others in harm’s way 

Using these 17 tips, nighttime driving can be a bit safer overall for you and others while on the road. 

The bottom line 

Driving is always a game of risk but nighttime driving, unfortunately, increases those odds. When driving at night you should take additional precautions to manage these risks and stay safe. To stay safe, make sure you’re also properly insured with the right coverage. If you’re a low-mileage driver, it’s time to rethink your auto coverage and pay only for the miles you drive. Save more while driving less and get more out of your coverage with pay-per-mile insurance. Check out your free quote with Metromile.