Driving at night and the brain: tips for safer trips after dark
August 18, 2022
You’re on the road, it’s longafter dusk and you find yourself driving in the dark. With the headlights hitting the pavement, you mayfeel like you are traveling at lightspeed. That perception of speed may not be what it seems while driving at night.
Our perception of speed may contribute to less mindful behaviors behind the wheel, such as speeding, going too slow or not paying attention. We’ll tap into why our perception of speed at night differs from daytime driving and provide tips on how to stay safe while driving at night.
The driving at night mind game
Think about how you drive at night versus during the day. Have you felt like your day trips seem to go much slower, even though you’re traveling at the right speed limit? On the flip side, maybe those trips at night leave you feeling like you’re going much faster than you actually are. You can thank your brain for these opposing perceptions of speed and distance.
Perceived speed while driving can be affected by a number of factors, including traffic conditions, driving experience and luminance (the intensity of emitted light). In a study conducted by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), researchers observed the role of contrast and optic flow on perceived speed.
What is optic flow? It’s the perceived visual motion of objects as an observer moves relative to them. A higher optic flow will indicate a higher perceived visual motion of objects, leading to slower speeds. A lower optic flow will have a lower perceived visual motion of objects, leading to faster speeds.
That was a lot to take in, so let’s put that science into something we can all relate to.
Lower optic flow
Think about a recent commute home in daylight. You were able to see quite a bit, right? You likely saw neighborhoods up ahead, mountains in the distance or even pedestrians strolling on the sidewalks. You were able to take more in from a visual perspective based on what you could see ahead.
Because you’re able to see things at a distance while driving, your optic flow is lowered and gives the perception that you’re driving slower than you actually are—so you might put the pedal to the metal and increase your speed by a little too much.
Higher optic flow
At night, your visibility is limited—often only to what is visible from your car headlights. Because your view is limited, you’re observing objects that may be much closer to your vehicle. This could be the lines on the road, freeway lights or other vehicles.
And because those objects are closer, your optic flow is higher, which gives the perception or feeling of moving faster than you actually are going. This could result in lower speeds, which can make driving at night dangerous.
Why driving at night can be dangerous
Driving at night may not be the safest time to get in the car and hit the road. The National Safety Council (NSC) gives us a few reasons why commuting in the dark has its downsides.
Fatigue. Nearly 100K police-reported accidents are the result of driver fatigue. Drowsy driving puts everyone at risk, so do your best to get adequate sleep and travel during times you’re normally awake.
Compromised night vision. The ability to see well in low-light conditions is essential for nighttime driving. As we age, it can be more difficult to see at night. Make sure you have annual vision exams and limit yourself to daytime driving, if necessary.
Impaired drivers. Those under the influence of alcohol or drugs are most frequently on the road after dark—think between midnight and 3:00 AM. Try to stay off of the road during those late hours to avoid impaired drivers.
Most of us can’t avoid driving at night for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s for a profession or driving to the airport to catch a red-eye flight, we’re human and will need to drive in the dark at some point.
So how can you stay safe while driving at night?
Tips for driving at night
Driving at night can be intimidating for some, and that makes sense. At night your visibility is limited (think only 500 feet for high beams and 250 for normal headlights), your senses are on high alert and you’re trying to get from (point) A to (point) B safely. Our team at HiRoad wants your drive to be as stress-free and safe as possible. Here again to help is the NSC with some tips on driving safely at night.
Aim headlights correctly to align on the road and not in the eyes of other drivers
Make sure headlights are clean and clear
Dim your dashboard to a lower light setting
Avoid staring directly into the lights of oncoming traffic
Clean your windshield
Wear glasses? Make sure they’re anti-reflective
One of the last tips for driving safely at night? Be aware of your speed. Make sure you’re going slow enough to account for limited visibility and reduced stopping time.
Driving at night, mindfully
When and where you drive counts at HiRoad. We utilize the power of telematics to show our HiRoad customers up-to-date driving trends, which can help guide their driving habits.Your driving translates into our four driving scores (Distraction Free, Smooth Driving, Driving Patterns and Safe Speeds).
How do the HiRoad app driving scores relate to your nighttime driving? Well, as we’ve learned, driving at night can put you at a higher risk of an accident. If you’re constantly driving at night, you may have a lower Driving Patterns score. But if you’re driving that same commute at a safe speed, you may have a higher Safe Speeds score.
Those scores influence your monthly savings at HiRoad. As you drive more mindfully, your scores go up. Higher scores can increase your monthly rewards, saving you up to 50 percent every month on your bill.
And like we mentioned, we can’t always prevent nighttime driving. But we can control how we drive at night. Here’s your gentle reminder that at night, stay distraction-free and drive at a safe speed to reach your destination safely.
Let’s take the night together with HiRoad.
The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with HiRoad®. While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. HiRoad is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. HiRoad makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.
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