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Driving at Night: The Dangers, Do’s, and Don’ts

We’ve all been there—you’re driving at night and suddenly you step hard on the brakes to avoid hitting that cat that darted into the street…or was it a racoon? Or a dog?

Or maybe just a paper bag blowing in the wind?

Instinctively, you were worried about hitting that poor critter, but just as concerning was the fact that you couldn’t tell whether it was an animal, a piece of trash, or a cluster of leaves 10 feet in front of your car due to the darkness.

There’s no doubt that driving at night has its challenges. But is it truly dangerous? Is it bad for your eyes? Can you do anything to make driving at night easier and safer? The answers might not be what you’d expect.

Is it dangerous to drive at night?

Most people know the obvious perils of nighttime driving: limited visibility and shorter field of vision. During the day, we can literally see for miles, but that range of visibility shrinks to just 250-500 feet at night. You’re more likely to encounter fatigued or impaired drivers on the road at night, too.

As you’ve probably experienced, the harsh brightness of headlights from oncoming traffic can blur vision, too. The glare of those same headlights on a dirty or foggy windshield can severely limit your visibility as well.

That’s why, unfortunately, fatal car accidents are three times as likely at night as they are during the day, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.

Night driving & eye health

Driving in the dark of night can put extra strain on your eyes. This strain can make night driving especially challenging for people with two common conditions: dry eyes and advancing cataracts.

If you experience dry eyes, the strain of night driving can compound the issue by causing you to blink less frequently while you try to focus on the road. Your car’s heating and air conditioning system can even contribute to dry eyes! The irritation alone can be enough of a distraction to make driving riskier.

Cataracts, on the other hand, present similar challenges as a dirty or foggy windshield. Like dirt, dust, and fog on the glass, cataracts deflect light in the lenses of your eye, creating glare and obstructing your vision.

With headlights from oncoming traffic consistently beaming bright lights in your direction, it’s easy to see why driving in the dark with cataracts could be dangerous.

Can glasses help night driving?

If you notice your riding companions doing more backseat driving at night, you might have underlying vision problems that are exacerbated by the darkness. Glasses (or other treatments) might be exactly what you’re missing.

The most common eye issues that can be helped by glasses for night driving are eye fatigue and blurred vision. If you notice either of these while driving at night, don’t just chalk it up to the darkness! While your eyes do have to work harder at night, you still shouldn’t have vision blur or fatigue just from driving.

When it comes to night driving, it’s better to be safe than sorry—talk to your eye doctor to find out if you have an underlying vision problem (such as cataracts) that’s leading to blurry or fatigued eyes.

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Tips to drive safely at night

Driving at night is unavoidable for most people, so take these steps to make it as safe as possible!

  • Keep your windshield clean for maximum visibility and glare reduction

  • Minimize light in the car and even dim the dash if possible to keep your pupils from shrinking, which can hurt night vision

  • Avoid driving when fatigued, which puts excess strain on more than just your eyes

  • Give your eyes a rest break, especially on long drives, even if they don’t feel “fatigued”

  • Use anti-glare lenses if you wear glasses

  • Drive slowly and defensively, including being considerate of other drivers’ vision when using high beams

  • Avoid looking directly at lights, especially oncoming headlights

  • Keep eye drops in your glove compartment, especially if you suffer from chronic dryness