Have you been left in the dark?
Every now and then I’ve been told that I’m a little in the dark when it comes to new technology. I’m glad we have DVD players because my old VCR would still be flashing 12:00. I could never figure that out. I may be in the dark for things like that, but I’m a lot smarter when it comes to driving in the dark.
Headlights of vehicles have improved a lot over the past few years. The beam itself has increased in length so we can now see further up the road when driving at night on dark highways. That makes it easier to see where you’re going on dark roads. But, how do you know if you’re looking far enough up the road? I’ve been out with enough drivers over the years to recognize that a lot of drivers tend to look too close to their own vehicle.
One tip I can provide to determine if you can see far enough ahead with your headlights is to look ahead to find an object that isn’t illuminated like a speed sign or a road sign. An illuminated sign is easier to spot and doesn’t give a true reading of how far ahead you’re looking. Look for a fence or mailbox as they aren’t usually illuminated. Once you see that object, count until you reach it. If you get to it before you reach 20 seconds, you’re driving too fast for the conditions. This is a term called ‘overdriving your headlights’.
Any time you’re driving, you’ll need time to see problems, time to think of a solution and time to respond to the problem. If you’ve reduced your perception time because you can’t see far enough in front of you, you’ve also reduced your response time. If you feel you can’t see far enough ahead, slow down. This will increase the time you have to see, think and respond to potential road hazards.
You will also need to do a little maintenance to your headlights to ensure you can see far enough ahead. In the summer, you’ll have a variety of bugs on the lenses of your headlight. Cleaning these will help the beams travel further up the road. In the winter, the slushy roads cause your headlights to be quick dirty. The squeegee at the gas station will help you clean these lights.
Facing opposing drivers with their high beam headlights can also be a problem. Many people believe that the oncoming driver who has their high beams on is blinding them. Think about this for a moment. If someone was standing right in front of you with a powerful flashlight shining right in our face, it would blind you. In other words, it would cause you to not see anything else. Is the oncoming driver, who is on the other side of the road with their high beams on, really blinding you or are they distracting you? Since you can actually see other parts of the road, they are only distracting you. This is still a problem though.
The first solution is to quickly flash your high beams and then back to low beams at the opposing driver. This communicates to them that they are causing a distraction to your visibility. If they don’t lower their high beams, look ahead to the right of your lane. This moves your eyes away from the distraction so you can still see your lane. You’ll also need to reduce your speed slightly so you’re not over driving your headlights. Once the opposing driver passes you, you can look ahead and speed up again.
I’ve often been asked the question about whether you should use your low beams or high beams. The high beams show more than what’s ahead of you. It also shows to the sides of your roadway. It can help spot larger animals in time to respond to them. You’ll be able to see from tree line to tree line.
The final advice I’d like to give regarding driving at night comes from following other drivers. If you have your high beams on and are gaining on the driver you’re following, could you blind them through their rear view mirror? The answer is an absolute YES! Stay far enough behind them that your high beam headlights won’t illuminate the rear of their vehicle. This gives you a larger and safer following distance, plus it allows you to use your high beams instead of your low beams.
If someone behind you has their high beams on, flip the tab on the bottom of your rear view mirror so the light becomes dimmer. It reduces the intensity of their headlights. If you also reduce speed slightly, it may force the driver to pass you and then the problem is gone from behind you.
I’m hoping this sheds some light on this topic for you!