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Driving at Night: How to Navigate the Shadows and Arrive Safely

Most people recognize they’re taking risks when they get behind the wheel. However, those risks significantly increase if you’re driving at night. Unfortunately, many people lose their lives each year due to accidents while driving at night when visibility is poorer and the nightlife ramps up. Because of this, some people flat-out refuse to captain their vehicles after the sun goes down to increase safety. 

After years of experience driving across the country, we’ve learned that driving into the night just isn’t worth it. It’s the most stressful and draining driving we ever do, so we almost always stop before the sun goes down. However, night driving can’t always be avoided.

Today, we’re sharing tips and tricks to help you navigate the shadows and arrive safely at your destination. Buckle your seatbelt, and let’s get started!

How to Drive at Night :: Tips & Techniques to Safely Drive in the Dark

Driving at Night is No Walk in the Park

Many people think roads are safer at night because there’s less traffic. Unfortunately, when you look at the data, they couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s one of the worst possible times to drive.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the nighttime hours are some of the most dangerous. Despite only a quarter of all trips occurring during this period, it’s when approximately half of all traffic fatalities occur. The National Safety Council’s research supports this and shows Saturday evenings as the deadliest time of the week.

No matter where you are, you should be cautious in these situations. It should be no surprise that some areas are more dangerous than others. Research shows that California and Texas are two of the riskiest states for nighttime driving. 

Driving at night
While there may be less people on the road at night, driving after dark is dangerous.

Why Is Night Driving Dangerous?

There are several reasons why night driving is exponentially more dangerous than driving during the day, including poor visibility, fatigue, and increased likelihood of encountering wildlife and impaired drivers. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

First, less light means less visibility. Seeing your surroundings is essential. Unfortunately, reduced lighting doesn’t make it any easier. You’re likely to also encounter some drivers whose headlights aren’t adjusted properly.

Additionally, our bodies naturally begin to create melatonin as darkness sets in. This starts the natural transition toward going to sleep to recharge your body. Unfortunately, your body won’t care what you’re doing when it starts this transition. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 684 deaths from drowsy-driving accidents in 2021.

You also must remember to be alert for wildlife. Many animals are more active during the overnight hours than throughout the day. It’s not uncommon to see signs warning drivers of the potential presence of wildlife crossing the road. Hitting any size animal when traveling at 65 mph can be extremely dangerous.

Finally, nighttime is also more likely to put you on the road with impaired drivers. According to the NHTSA, “The rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2021 was 2.8 times higher at night than during the day.”

Pro Tip: Safety is key while on the road. Use one of these 8 Best RV Backup Cameras to Make RV Driving Easier to stay safe on your next adventure.

Woman tired while driving at night
Staying awake and alert while night driving is crucial to staying safe on the road.

Tips for Safe Night Driving

Despite the increased risk, we understand that some people can’t avoid driving at night. Fortunately, there are some things drivers can do to increase their safety. Want to be the best possible nighttime driver? Here are some tips you can follow to help you arrive safely.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Nighttime Travel

Doing regular maintenance on your vehicle is essential. You should always ensure that your headlights, tail lights, turn signals, and brake lights are working. If not, replace them as soon as possible.

There’s a chance your headlights are working but not providing the best visibility. If that’s the case, you may need to adjust or align the headlights. There are adjustment screws under the hood that you can turn to change the height. Please be careful not to make the situation worse in the process.

Finally, the last thing you can do to prepare your vehicle for nighttime travel is to keep it clean. Wash your windshield and use glass cleaner on the inside and outside surfaces. Ensure your mirrors and headlights are clear, too. This includes clearing them of ice or snow during winter, and restoring cloudy headlights before they get too bad.

Managing Glare and Bright Lights

Headlights from other vehicles can be a royal pain at night. They can blind and distract you while you try to travel safely down the highway. This means adjusting your rearview and side mirrors for cars behind you. Some modern vehicles have features that automatically change to help reduce glare and harsh lighting.

Glare can be challenging for oncoming vehicles, especially on two-lane roads. The last thing you want is to look straight into bright lights. The best way to avoid doing so is to look toward the right edge of the road. If there’s a white line, use it as a guide to avoid drifting toward either side of the road.

Night driving
When in doubt, stay safe and avoid driving after dark.

Avoid Fatigue and Stay Alert

Driving can be exhausting, especially if you’re on a long road trip. Hours of driving can cause fatigue, and you must recognize when you’re starting to get tired. You don’t want to wait until you’re so tired you can’t continue driving.

Avoiding fatigue starts the night before a long drive. Go to bed early to ensure you get plenty of sleep. Hit the road ready to go, and then take regular breaks to stretch, rest your eyes, and use the restroom. We typically stop every hour or two during long travel days, swapping drivers and taking naps as needed throughout the day.

While consuming coffee and other high-caffeine substances may seem like a good idea, it’s not. Caffeine may give you a quick burst of energy, but it can leave you feeling worse once it wears off. Stay hydrated and eat healthy snacks to stay alert.

Other myths of playing loud music and rolling the windows down are also largely ineffective at keeping you awake while driving tired. In fact, these can also distract you.

Pro Tip: If you drive a big rig, you’ll want to know Are Speeding Tickets More Expensive When Driving an RV?

Reduce Your Speed

While you may be hurrying to your destination, driving too fast is never a good idea. Not only do you risk breaking the law, but you also increase your stopping distance. You may overdrive your headlights, making it impossible to react in time for an unexpected obstacle on the road. Between the reduced visibility and slower reaction time due to fatigue, speeding in the dark is much riskier than during the day.

Slowing down gives you more time to react and respond to anything on the road. You don’t want to overreact and lose control of your vehicle.

Man sleepy while driving
Know the potential dangers of night driving to better prepare for driving after the sun sets.

Be a Defensive Driver

Night driving requires you to be a defensive driver. One of the most vital things you can do is to keep a safe distance from other vehicles. You may need to adjust your speed to maintain the proper distance. If a driver comes up behind you and makes you feel uncomfortable, look for and take the next pull-off to let them pass.

When driving, constantly scan the road. This can help you to be aware of others and watch for objects on the road. Stay centered in your lane. Some roads have little to no shoulder, which could cause you to overcorrect should you get too close.

Be Aware of Wildlife

Wildlife tends to be most active at night. While they may not be going to work, they’re looking for food and shelter. While scanning the road, look toward the sides. You may spot the reflection of your lights in their eyes. This may be enough to buy you time to slow down to avoid any issues.

Many highway departments install warning signs in areas where wildlife frequents. We’ve seen everything from bright yellow signs for deer to large LED signs warning against larger animals like bears, moose, and elk. Slowing down and being extra vigilant in these areas will help.

Pro Tip: Going on an RV road trip? Don’t overlook these 10 Most Commonly Forgotten Steps on Your Pre-Departure RV Checklist.

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Shed Light on Nighttime Driving Safety

Unfortunately, while you can minimize the risks of nighttime driving, you can’t eliminate them. Being aware of the potential dangers can help you to prepare. Knowing what to expect allows you to create a plan and avoid overreacting to a situation. We keep our night driving to a minimum and hit the road just after sunrise. Whatever you do, stay safe while traveling.

Do you have any night driving safety tips? Tell us your tips in the comments!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Russel Hawkins

Wednesday 28th of June 2023

This was a Really good article and advice. Many years ago my flight instructor gave me some good advice that has carried over into my years of RVing. He said: “There are three things you never mix, Night, Weather and Mountains”. I have repeatedly restated this advice more times than I can remember because it may help someone else.