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Night Vision - Driving as the clocks change

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

As the clocks go back and we head inexorably into another winter, it’s worth giving some thought to the specific challenges of driving at night. After the glorious summer months of barely needing to turn on the headlights, piloting a vehicle through pitch-blackness can be something of a culture shock, but the various complications of darkness can be significantly diminished by a little forethought and advanced planning.

Glare from Car Lights at Night
Glare from Car Lights at Night

Automotive common sense is called for as the nights draw in and the road departments begin gritting the highways. Clean your windscreen regularly, replace worn wiper blades and ensure your washer fluid reservoir is topped up with a mixture of water and screen cleaning fluid, since the roads get very dirty in winter and detritus thrown onto the screen can cause visibility problems. In a similar vein, never drive off until your demister has cleared any moisture from inside the windscreen, or before any ice has been removed - the human eye simply doesn’t function well enough in low light to compensate for obscured windows. Demisters can also irritate or dry your eyes; your optometrist can advise you on counteracting this discomfort.

Most importantly, make sure your car’s external lights are all fully functioning and free from dirt. Check them once a fortnight at the front and rear of the vehicle, since blown or obscured bulbs not only attract the attention of Her Majesty’s constabulary but also pose a potential danger to you and other motorists. Even in areas with street lamps, headlights and taillights are essential for seeing (and being seen) at night, while unlit roads require extra care, since a variety of

Car with Clean Tail Lights
Car with Clean Tail Lights

hazards could belurking outside the range of your headlight beams. Remember to only use full beam when no cars are in front of you, to avoid blinding oncoming motorists, and never look at the headlights of an approaching vehicle, since retinal burns can occur.nding oncoming motorists, and never look at the headlights of an approaching vehicle, since retinal burns can occur.

Finally, at the risk of stating the obvious, always remember to turn on your lights once the sun has set, if they don’t come on automatically. If we’re honest, most of us will have forgotten this small but crucial step at least once in our driving careers...

Driving with imperfect vision is never recommended, but it is especially critical to have pin-sharp eyesight at night, since darkness makes it much harder to identify road signs, lane markings and potential hazards. Low light diminishes our colour recognition, depth perception and peripheral vision levels, and our ability to see in the dark worsens with age. A sight test in autumn is therefore recommended for anyone who regularly drives at night, particularly the over-40s, and spectacle lenses should be fitted with anti-reflective coatings to reduce glare from lights.
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