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Nighttime Driving: Know the Risks
  • Posted February 3, 2024

Nighttime Driving: Know the Risks

Driving at night can be risky business, as a dangerous combination of darkness and the glare of bright lights can make it hard to see the road, but one expert offers some safety tips.

“If you have to drive in the evening time and you're not comfortable, try to stick with roads that you know and make sure you know where you're going so you don't have to be looking at street signs, which are harder to see at night,” said Dr. Sumitra Khandelwal, a professor of ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

If you do have to venture out in your car after dark, check your vehicle first, she stressed.

“One of the first things to do for nighttime driving has nothing to do with the eyes; it's to optimize all aspects of driving with your car that allow for better nighttime vision,” Khandelwal explained.

A dirty windshield can make starbursts, halos, glares, smearing and streaking more apparent in the dark, so cleaning it is critical for clear vision. Headlights get dirty just as easily, particularly if it rains and mud or water gets splattered on them, so Khandelwal recommends wiping off any dirt or splash marks before you get behind the wheel.

Even after cleaning your windshield and headlights, there are plenty of vision issues that can make it difficult for drivers to see clearly.

Your pupils get larger at night, which can cause more glares and halos and lowers the effectiveness of prescription glasses and contact lenses, making people more nearsighted, Khandelwal noted.

“Your prescription is generally set up in the eye doctor's office, but sometimes it can be weak at night, so it's important to get your eyes checked if you haven't recently to get a better prescription for glasses or contact lenses. You want to make sure those are maximized,” she said.

Cataracts, which can weaken nighttime vision, also hamper your vision as you age. And dry eye makes streaking, halos and glares worse. Khandelwal suggests using artificial tears or prescription eye drops to help keep the corneas clear and lubricated.

If you decide to use lubricating eye drops, take them about 30 minutes before getting behind the wheel, because the drops can make vision temporarily blurry.

Those who struggle with nighttime driving should not drive in the dark for long distances, Khandelwal added. Local driving where speed limits are lower might not bother people at night, but the high speeds of a freeway are another story.

More information

The National Safety Council has more on the dangers of driving at night.

SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, Jan. 29, 2024

What This Means for You

Driving at night can be dangerous. Here are some tips on how to make it more safe.

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