Driving at night

Driving tips

Night-time driving tips

Driving at night can feel very different from driving in the daytime, especially when you're a new driver. In low light you can’t see colours or judge distances as well as in daylight, and your peripheral vision is also reduced.

So with struggling to see on poorly lit roads and being dazzled by oncoming traffic, there’s a lot to get used to.

  1. Stay alert and stay sober

    We hope it goes without saying that you shouldn’t drink alcohol and drive but also be aware that prescription and even over-the-counter medications can make you drowsy - add to that the fact that you’re naturally sleepier at night and you could put yourself and others at risk.

    Be aware: Prescription and over the counter medications can make you drowsy - always check the small print!

    If you’re feeling tired, a cup of coffee can help in the short term, but ultimately you need to take a break. Avoid loading up on high carb foods which can also make you sleepy and if possible, take a friend along for the ride - though beware of drunk friends late at night who will prove more of a distraction than a help!

  2. Look after your lights

    First up, make sure all your lights work: your headlights and your rear and brake lights. If anything isn’t working you need to get it sorted straight away - bulbs can be replaced for just a few dollars.

    You also need to keep your lights clean with a regular wipe down, and if you have an older car make sure the plastic cover hasn’t hazed or tarnished over time. You can buy a polish kit to remove any signs of aging.

    Always make sure your lights are working and clean. Use a headlight cleaner if your lights have turned yellow or cloudy.

  3. And make sure you use them properly

    You’ll already know to turn on your high beams in unlit areas and off again when you reach an area with street lighting, but make sure you also turn them off as soon as you see another car approaching or if you come up behind a car driving ahead. You don’t want to blind other drivers!

    It’s also important to turn your fog lights off unless it is actually foggy - without the fog to diffuse this light it will be bright and blinding to oncoming traffic.

    If you’re driving in an unfamiliar car always take a few minutes to get used to the controls - make sure you know where the lights are and how to turn the full beams on and off BEFORE you start driving.

  4. Don’t outdrive your headlights

    If you’re going so fast that your stopping distance is farther than you can see with your lights, you’re overdriving your headlights. This is dangerous because you may not have enough room to make a safe stop.

    Increase the gap: Most drivers recommend increasing the following distance between you and the next car to 5 or 6 seconds at night.
  5. Look away from the light

    If someone drives towards you with bright lights it can be hard not to stare right into them - but that can be seriously distracting and even painful for your eyes.

    Try to look slightly away from other lights on the road focusing on the road markings to guide you and if someone behind your has their full beams on, just adjust your rearview mirror.

  6. Wipe your windshield

    Your windshield might look spotless in the daytime but once you have lights reflecting off it, any streaks can quickly become an irritation. Don’t be tempted to use your hands which will just add to the problem by leaving grease marks - keep a microfibre cloth handy to wipe away any smears or smudges.

    Tip: Keep a spare jug of windshield washer fluid in your trunk so you can refill when needed. If your wiper blades are not working properly, replace them.
  7. Make the most of your mirrors

    Dirty mirrors can produce a glare in your eyes from the lights of cars behind you - so keep them clean, and you can always adjust the angle downwards just slightly so you can still see other cars while keeping the lights out of your eyes.

  8. Know where you’re going

    Even roads you know well can look different in the dark so check your route in advance and make sure you know where you’re going.

    Many people rely on a GPS - just make sure you program it before you set off and adjust the settings for night-time.

  9. Watch for animals

    If you’re driving around Ontario, there’s a good chance that you’ll encounter domestic, farm and wild animals on the road at some point in your life. The Ontario Provincial Police say that 10,000 drivers have crashes involving animals every year, and they’re not restricted to rural areas.

    At night-time, you can spot an animal on the road by looking for the reflection of light in their eyes - they’ll look like small shining spots down the road. Slow down and sound your horn right away if you see them - you may have to come to a stop, so be watchful of cars behind you as well.

    The other kind of wildlife: Be extra cautious around restaurants and bars at night, as impaired pedestrians are particularly unpredictable and may step into the street unexpectedly.

  10. And just in case...

    Keep your cellphone charged and have a torch and a high-vis jacket stashed in your trunk. Of course these are useful in the daytime too if you do have an emergency - but at night they are essential kit!


Honor joined ingenie in 2014 and is in charge of words on the Young Driver's Guide and blog. She started learning to drive last year, at the age of 24.