It’s no secret that the most wonderful time of the year is also accompanied by the most likely to spend it driving while it’s dark out. But even as much as we all know it’s going to happen each year, we always seem to forget just how short the days become and subsequently, just how much longer the nights are as we inch closer and closer to winter in December.
Night driving is certainly more challenging than driving while it’s light out. We know that instinctually but statistics show that despite 60 percent less traffic on the roads, nearly 50 percent of all fatal car accidents occur at night. As the daylight hours grow smaller with each passing day this month, we thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea for those of us in West Michigan to get a refresher on the extra precautions we need to take while driving in the dark.
Knowing when and where most accidents are occurring might be the first step in fully understanding the risks involved and hopefully, avoiding them. While people assume that accidents occur most in the winter months due to inclement weather and slippery road conditions, the truth is the season the most accidents occur is in the summer, specifically in the month of August.
Interestingly enough, the time of day that accidents most frequently happen changes depending on the season. During the spring and summer months, non-fatal accidents happened most between 12-3pm while fatal accidents occured most often between 8pm-midnight. During the months of fall and winter, the prime time shifts to 4-8pm. Holidays and holiday weekends can also greatly impact the odds of being involved in an auto accident, in part due to an increase in traffic but also due to drinking and driving.
One large and seemingly obvious reason why accidents happen more in the dark is drivers not being able to see as far. This not only impacts how much road drivers can see as they travel along but hides any obstacles or objects in the road, decreasing stoppage time allowed. Additionally, lights from oncoming vehicles can compound the issue. While you may not be able to control the sun or even other driver’s headlights, there are some tips for driving at night that can improve your odds of arriving safely at your destination.
Drive Extra Defensively
Defensive driving is always a good idea but an extra dose of vigilance can go a long way with night driving. Stay alert to any indications that animals are on the side of the road such as large shadows or the iridescent glow of their eyes as they reflect your headlights. Remember that deer are pack animals so if you see one cross the road, chances are high that there will be more and never veer if you come across one in your path.
Give Yourself More Space
Now that you know that your ability to see further distances is impacted by night driving, you should understand how following too closely to a vehicle can further reduce your ability to stop in time. The closer you follow behind a vehicle, the closer your headlights are which can make them feel brighter to the driver ahead and distract them from upcoming hazards.
Reaction time matters and it’s clear when you look at the data. Speeding has been related to 37 percent of nighttime fatalities while it only accounted for 21 percent of daytime fatalities. Adjusting your speed to account for conditions such as visibility is important to better match your line of sight and time needed to stop your vehicle.
Never Drive Impaired
Driving impaired can involve driving after you’ve been drinking or taking medication but it can also refer to driving drowsy. While many people don’t consider driving drowsy as something dangerous, studies have shown it can impair judgment and reaction time as much as alcohol. In fact, research shows that sleep deprivation leads to mental impairment that is similar to drunkenness with 24 hours of sleep deprivation roughly equating to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.10%. Some drivers report activities like turning the radio on, rolling down the windows periodically for fresh air, and singing to themselves as ways to increase their alertness if they feel the onset of fatigue beginning.
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