Millions of motorists in the UK believe that they are more at risk of minor accidents and collisions in the winter months because, to their own admission, their driving gets worse in dark and wintery conditions – according to a new survey by MotorConnect.co.uk.
33 per cent of drivers questioned claimed that their driving noticeably worsens between November and March because the dark, difficult weather conditions and increased glare from headlights that makes them less confident behind the wheel.
A quarter of drivers surveyed admitted to having previously been in a minor collision or bump in the winter months – 47 per cent of accidents were due in part to headlight glare; 23% not being able to see objects properly in the dark and 17 per cent was due to glare from artificial lighting.
Four out of ten of those surveyed claim that they avoid driving in the dark in winter if they can – 30 per cent have cancelled social plans because they did not want to drive and one in ten have been late for a night time event because they have taken a longer, but more well-lit route.
Commenting on the findings, and offering advice for better vision when driving in the dark, Dr Andy Hepworth – vision expert from Essilor.co.uk, said:
“Winter can bring some pretty challenging driving conditions and it’s no surprise that people are lacking in confidence – however it is crucial that everyone stays safe. To hear that people think their driving worsens is quite alarming but there are factors at play with our eyesight which explain this. Quite simply, our vision is not adapted to night-time driving environments, and eye sensitivity is different in the daytime than at night. Therefore, driving in the dark, we are exposed to multiple and intense sources of light that create reflections and glare; the impact on vision is difficulty in adapting, reduced peripheral vision, decreased contrast sensitivity, increased response time, difficulties in motion perception and navigation issues.”
For anyone worried about the clocks changing and the impact that the darker nights can have on their driving, I have this advice:
Adjust your eyes to the dark before driving
Give yourself a few minutes in the car to allow your eyes to adjust to the lower light level before you start driving. Low light levels cause the pupil of the eye to become larger and this can accentuate any focusing errors – no matter how minor – causing blur. Low-light levels can similarly lead to a reduction in the contrast of objects.
At night it’s also more important than ever to wear a pair of spectacles or contact lenses with an up-to-date prescription. It’s a legal requirement that your vision meets standards for driving.
Keep your distance
It is more difficult to judge distance at night-time so allow extra space between you and the car in front as this gives more time to react to situations ahead of you.
Use anti-glare glasses lenses
Specially developed lens coating can reduce glare and reflection by up to 90% compared to a lens that has no anti-reflective treatment. This can help to remove distractions from glare caused by streetlights, traffic lights and headlights from other cars.
Keep windscreens smear-free
While not only making sure the outside of a front and back windscreen is clean and streak free, ensuring washer fluid is good quality and always topped up, keep a microfiber cloth in the glove box to clear any condensation and smears on the inside. And while you’re at it – give you glasses a wipe over too so they are smear free and clear. Scratched or smudged glasses will reduce image quality.
Regularly check and adjust mirrors
Advice on safe night driving includes regularly adjusting rear view mirrors to reduce glare from behind.
Some newer vehicles come with self-dimming rear-view mirror functionality, which is worth looking out for to help reduce glare.
Headlights not only help drivers to see better but are an important safety feature to be seen. Regularly check that all lights are in full working order. It is illegal to drive at night without fully-functioning headlights and police officers will stop vehicles that don’t comply with the guidelines.
Dip don’t dazzle
While taking steps to be safe from the dazzle of other driver’s headlights, it’s important that all drivers are taking the correct steps in their own vehicles. Adjust car headlights if you’re carrying varying loads and check that they are aligned properly. Headlamp aim forms part of a vehicle’s MOT, but ask your local garage to inspect that they are aligned properly whenever your vehicle goes in for a service. Also, always dip headlights when facing oncoming traffic.
Slow down or stop
Rule 237 of the Highway Code states that if you’re dazzled by bright sunlight ‘slow down or if necessary stop’. The same applies for being dazzled at night. If your vision is in any way causing concern, pull over in a safe place and take the necessary steps to try and improve vision (clearing a windscreen or adjusting mirrors).
Get your eyes tested
Ensuring your eyesight is up to scratch when driving in winter is also crucial. Most people over the age of about 45 will need some vision correction to see in sharp focus, and everyone should have their eyes checked by an optician at least every two years as your sight can change without it being obvious.
Lisa Corwood, chief information officer from MotorConnect.co.uk, said: “We were alarmed to hear that people think they are more likely to get into a minor accident in the winter and so in a bid to keep people as safe as possible we turned to vision experts, Essilor, to share some help and advice. Whilst winter does present some challenging driving conditions, it’s imperative to adapt your driving habits to stay as safe as possible. Don’t forget that this is also the perfect time to make sure that your car is winter ready by checking oil levels, tyres and brake pads. And if your car is beginning to get unreliable – it could be time for an upgrade!”