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Hitting the road in the dark? Here’s how to stay safe

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The Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA) says driving in the dark is riskier for many reasons but preparedness can help avoid causing, or being involved in, an accident.

MIWA chairperson Dewald Ranft says that the reality is that a higher percentage of fatal accidents occur at night between about 16:00 and 22:00 and points out this is partly due to the fact that our peripheral vision, perception of colour and depth perception are decreased in low-light conditions.

There are, however, many other factors that come into play on the roads at night – especially in South Africa where driving in the daytime is no walk in the park either.

“Statistics have shown that the most common causes of road accidents in South Africa are reckless and negligent driving. This includes speeding, driving under the influence and distracted driving,” Ranft says.

“This type of driver behaviour is evident on our roads day and night, so it is the responsibility of each and every person getting behind a steering wheel to be aware of the factors that increase risk at night and know how to circumvent these.”

Ranft advises doing a quick safety check before driving in the dark to make sure your headlights, tail lights and indicator lights are clean and working properly. You should also consider taking your car to a workshop to make sure your headlights are correctly set. If they are not, they can blind other drivers and reduce your ability to see the road.

“Safe driving at night starts with good visibility. Firstly, the driver should have good eyesight confirmed by regular visits to an optometrist and use anti-glare glasses if necessary to see better at night. In addition, all the lights on your vehicle must be working properly.

“It is worth noting that the human eye naturally adjusts to darkness, but it can take up to 30 minutes for your eyes to fully adapt. Drivers should reduce speed during this transitional time.”

MIWA provides 6 more night-driving safety tips:

1.         Make sure your windscreen, rear window and side mirrors are clean. Also check your rear-view mirror. Dirty windows increase glare from the lights of other vehicles and are more prone to steaming up.

2.         Stick to the rules of the road at all times and be a courteous and patient driver. This includes making sure you are visible to everyone else. Best practice is to turn your headlights at dusk and keep them on until an hour after sunrise. Don’t tailgate as this could make the driver in front of you nervous and your vehicle’s lights can limit their visibility.

3.         Dim your dashboard lights if streetlights are very bright and don’t use any other lights inside the car.

4.         If you are towing, make sure your brake lights and indicators are connected properly and working before leaving.

5.         Reduce your speed. In view of the reduced visibility, it is advisable for motorists to reduce their speed. Reaction time while driving is typically 1.5 seconds. This means that if you notice a car suddenly stopping in front of you, it will take you an average of 1.5 seconds to react. Slowing your speed is one of the best ways to avoid head-on collisions, especially at night when your vision distance is limited by your headlights. Do not drive faster than the range of your vision – you must be able to stop at all times, within the length of the road illuminated by your headlights.

6.         Don’t drive when tired. Exhaustion severely affects focus and reaction time.

“Apart from bad driver behaviour, we also have challenges like potholes, lack of road markings and road signs and even livestock roaming busy roads. All of these add to the stress of night-time driving.

“With daylight hours limited in our winter months, make that commute to and from work in the dark a safe one by knowing your eyesight is good and that your car won’t let you down in any respect,” Ranft concludes.

Eugene Ranft 1
MIWA chairperson Dewald Ranft