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GTO 16th January 2013 17:04

ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
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Let me start this article off by saying, if you have a choice, always pick daytime driving over the night. There isn't a doubt that travelling during the day is a far safer option, especially in India. Plus, after driving all night, it’s not like you are going to have much of a productive day anyway.

Over & above the night-specific advice offered below, you must follow all guidelines outlined in the Safe Highway Driving Article.

Must-Read Articles:
Safe Highway Driving

Handling a Tyre Blowout

Indian Road-Trip Preps

Safe Monsoon Driving

GTO 16th January 2013 17:04

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
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Disadvantages of Driving @ Night:
• Poorer Visibility! The visibility factor is down to less than half at night. However powerful your headlamps might be, they simply can't compete with the sun :). Colour perception is reduced too, as headlights don't emit anywhere near as wide a light spectrum as the sun. You won’t see that nasty boulder in your path from as far away as during the day.

• Drowsiness – a top cause of accidents – is at its peak. Remember, we aren't a nocturnal breed; our body is hardwired to rest in the dark hours. Even if you are fresh yourself, do you really want to be sharing the road with a truck driver who has put in 18+ hours behind the wheel without sleep?

• Those driving with their high beams on can blind you on single lane highways (lesser of an issue on expressways though).

• Higher probability of Drunk Drivers. With no police enforcement to curb alcoholics on the highway, and a general tendency to drink in the evening, the night brings more drunkards on the road.

• Steeper crime rates. Crime is most rampant when there are lesser people around and the chance of getting caught is minimal. Indian highways have higher instances of criminal activity at night.

• Weak OEM headlamps! Many Indian cars just aren’t capable of cruising safely at night, due to their weak factory headlamps. Few car owners ever get around to upgrading their inadequate OEM bulbs.

• Several vehicles don't have properly functioning headlights, tail-lights and brake lamps. Combine this with reduced visibility in the dark, and it's a recipe for disaster. Think of the number of times you've heard of someone driving into a parked truck at night. That doesn't ever happen in the day.

• Poor medical support. Post-incident injury treatment is pathetically slow on Indian roads. The number of injured people who die between the accident time & them reaching the hospital is shockingly high. Medical support is slower at night when staff members are in shorter supply.

• Poorer breakdown support. If your car should suffer a mechanical failure, garages open for service will be few & far between.

• Difficult to find good places to eat. There aren't too many restaurants serving clean, hygienic food all through the night. The choice is limited.

• Not too many people on the road to ask directions from, in case you get lost.
Advantages of Driving @ Night:
• You’ll usually achieve a higher average speed, despite maintaining a lower top speed. Primary reason = Lesser traffic.

• Lower probability of bullock carts, three wheelers, cyclists & animals on the Highway.

• Cooler air = Better engine! The density of cool air is higher than hot air. Thus, you end up with a superior burn, resulting in better performance. The engine feels noticeably crisper at night.

• Higher fuel efficiency due to lesser traffic & cooler air.

• You can see a vehicle coming around a blind corner due to its headlamps (assuming the vehicle has its headlamps running).

• This is down to personal tastes, but I find night driving very enjoyable. The pleasure of empty roads, cooler weather, crisper engine, feeling one with the car and some nice music playing is unmatched. However, safety comes first and it's best to limit night driving to as little as possible.

GTO 16th January 2013 17:05

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
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Before firing up the engine
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• Your eyesight gets weaker with age, especially in low light conditions. If you have troublesome vision, you should be driving to the Optometrist and not the highway. Your eyesight has to be perfectly healthy for night driving.

• You MUST be well rested. If you think you’ll be able to drive perfectly after a long day at work, well, you're just wrong.

• Don't eat a heavy dinner and avoid food that's rich in carbohydrates (e.g. rice). Carbs make you sleepy.

• If you own a vehicle with suspect reliability, don’t take it out on the highway at night.

• Check all lights of the car. If your car has poor OEM headlamps, get the bulbs upgraded. Ensure that your headlamps aim correctly. Headlamp alignment is a quick fix at the service station. If you are a DIY kind of guy, view Rehaan's excellent post here. Powerful headlamps are useless if they are out of focus.

• Remember to always carry spare headlamp bulbs & fuses with you.

• Clean your lights (including headlamps, fog-lamps & tail-lamps), and your mirrors too (external & internal). There's a massive difference between the effectiveness of clean and dirty headlamps.

• A dirty, greasy or scratched windshield will diffuse incoming light and amplify the blinding glare. When it comes to visibility, a clean windshield is as important as having good headlamps. Ensure that your windshield is clean inside and out. Be sure to clean all other glasses as well (side windows, rear glass etc.).

• Your car should NOT have tinted sunfilm on the front windscreen; frontal vision has to be crystal clear. Your side windows shouldn't be too dark either.

• Switch the cabin lamp off as it limits your exterior vision, by causing more internal reflections on the windshield & windows.

• Dim out the instrument console. Most modern cars have a dimmer control for the dashboard lights.

• Ensure that your doors are securely locked before hitting the highway.

• Between relaxing music (that’ll put you to sleep) and peppy music (that’ll keep you on your toes), choose the latter.

• Stick to National Highways & Expressways with a median (road divider). Try to avoid single lane highways as much as possible. Yes, you should completely forget about lonely diversions or isolated village roads.

• Stick to roads that you are familiar with. Night driving on unfamiliar tarmac is even more dangerous.

• Get local intelligence on instances of dacoity for the intended route. As an example, those from Maharashtra will be well aware of rogue incidents on the Panvel bypass & approach road to Shirdi.

• Avoid driving alone. At least one passenger in the car should be awake and in the front seat. This passenger can serve as an extra set of eyes, and also be on the lookout for any signs of driver fatigue.

• If you have multiple drivers, drive in shifts. While one drives, the other can catch some Z's.

GTO 16th January 2013 17:05

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
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On the Highway
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• Drive at a much lower speed than you would on the same stretch during the day. Due to poorer visibility, it's difficult to anticipate unwanted obstructions well in advance.

• Night driving requires a higher level of alertness. Remain sharp & focused. Also, it's not as easy to judge the speed of oncoming vehicles at night. Overtake only when 100% sure.

• Keep blinking ever so often. Don’t let your eyes dry up.

• Don't focus on a single object or the same part of the road / markers for an extended duration. You might suffer from highway hypnosis. Keep moving the focus of your eyes every couple of minutes (More Information).

• Be extremely cautious at junctions as they are difficult to spot at night. With no traffic lights, drunk and callous motorists are known to just drive through intersections, without any regard for others.

• Use the day / night feature of your internal rear view mirror if the headlamps behind (from the following car) are blinding you. I prefer to switch them back to day mode after the situation has improved, as day mode provides a better view of what's happening behind.

• Along with a mild honk, flash your high beam during overtaking. This will sufficiently communicate your presence & intention to the other vehicle.

• If you need to make an emergency stop (e.g. puncture), move your vehicle as far off the road as possible. Keep your parking lights on and activate your hazard lights. If your car has a reflective warning triangle, place it at least 40 meters behind your car to warn oncoming motorists well in advance.

• Be conservative with your refueling plans. A majority of petrol pumps shut shop after midnight. Filling the tank up as soon as it reaches the 40 - 50% level is a good idea.

Lights Management

• Keep your low beam on at all times. NEVER drive without your headlamps on, or with them only in the parking / pilot lamp setting.

• Use your high beam when the conditions mandate it, but never when you have oncoming traffic. Be courteous with your headlamp usage. Immediately switch from high beam to low beam when someone is opposite you. For your own good, you don’t want to blind oncoming vehicles. Also, don't follow someone with your high beam on, as it will blind them (through their ORVMs).

• If driving with a full load of passengers or cargo, the weight in the rear tends to make the headlamps point skyward. Use the headlamp level height adjuster to counteract this. "0" is the standard setting; you should increase the number to dip the beam further (as the weight at the rear of your car increases).

• When visibility is really poor (e.g. on a rough village road), hold the flash switch temporarily. This activates low beam & high beam simultaneously, giving you roughly twice the light power. Do this only when there is no oncoming traffic.

• If driving in foggy conditions, use your low beam & fog lights. High beam actually reduces visibility in fog, as most of the light gets reflected back by the fog.

• Use your rear fog lamp *only* when there is fog (or a situation of poor visibility). Rear fog lights are so powerful that they can take the attention away from your brake lights.

• If one of your headlamps goes bust, be sure to switch the front fog lamps on. This is to ensure that oncoming cars see two lights on either side of your car.

Avoiding the glare of oncoming headlamps

• Never look *into* the headlamps of oncoming vehicles; it’ll momentarily blind you. Move your gaze away from the bright headlamps. It's best to look down and toward the road in such conditions. Focus on the road markers. Indian roads today have much improved quality of markers.

• Flash once or twice to let the offending vehicle know of his blinding high beam. But don’t fight back with your high beam permanently on, as blinding him isn't good for your safety.

• If you are blinded, focus on the left side of your lane / road, and move as much to the left as you safely can. Again, use the lines painted on the road as a steering guide, but always be aware of the oncoming vehicle's position via your peripheral field of view.

• If oncoming lights really bother you, use another car / bus / truck as a lead vehicle. Stress levels are cut by 50% instantly, as long as you follow a well-driven lead vehicle at a safe distance. Our family calls this car the “sweeper” car as it will block oncoming headlamps, clear traffic for you and also give you ample warning of unmarked speed-breakers, potholes & sharp curves that might otherwise be missed. Of course, don’t follow a lead car blindly. If he drives off a cliff, you don’t want to follow him down.

GTO 16th January 2013 17:05

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
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• Other people's mistakes. The effect of poor driving skills is only amplified at night. You must leave a wide margin for other drivers' errors.

• Poorly illuminated roads. Especially watch out for dividers that start without any warning!

• An overloaded Jeep with 15 passengers and no headlamps, taking a U-turn through an unmarked gap in the road median. A broken down truck on the road, right in your path, with no parking lights on. You get the gist; expect the unexpected. Stay 100% focused & alert.

• Vehicles driving without rear lights (on your side of the road).

• Vehicles driving without front lights (on the opposite side of the road).

• Trucks & cars with only a single headlamp working. From a distance, these might be mistaken for a two-wheeler.

• Heavy rain. Torrential showers & the night make for risky driving conditions. Hit the sack and drive in the morning instead. Your life is worth it.

• Your eyes have to work harder when driving at night. Therefore, stop more frequently. Once every 60 – 90 minutes is ideal. Generously splash your face & eyes with water.

• Clean your lights (including headlamp & tail-lamps), mirrors (external & internal) and windscreen (outside & inside) each time you stop.

• Park entirely OFF the road (e.g. in a restaurant's parking lot). If you must stop on the highway, do so two car lengths ahead of a large vehicle parked safely with its lights on.

• Preferably, don’t let women step out of the car. Even if you stop at a dhaba, serve them their tea & snacks inside the car.

• Don’t show off your valuables (e.g. expensive watch, gold chain or cash-loaded wallet) where you stop.

• Treat the first yawn as a warning sign. If you are tired, stop at a hotel (preferred) or a safe dhaba, lock your car and go to sleep. Remember, even if you sleep at a hotel, you’ll still get home faster than in a hearse!

GTO 16th January 2013 17:15

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
Recommended Threads:
Tips for reducing Driver Fatigue

Night Driving on Single Lane Highways

Spectacles or Lenses for Night Driving?

Thank the Leading Car at night?

Day Driving or Night Driving?
On an ending note, and again, choose daytime driving over the night. Road accident death rates are 3 times higher at night, according to the National Safety Council (USA). Drive Safe!

Image Credits : The pictures of this Article have been sourced from various Team-BHP threads. Thanks to BHPians for shooting & sharing them.

Rehaan 16th January 2013 17:17

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
Thanks GTO -- Super and exhaustive article as always!

As much as I hate traffic, I do my best to avoid night driving on the highway. There's absolutely no question that it's significantly more dangerous.

If BHPians take a look at the list of disadvantages and advantages you've put up, they'll notice that there are 9 listed reasons on why it's unsafe to drive at night, and there is only 1 advantage of driving at night when it comes to safety ("seeing approaching cars around corners"). All the other positives of driving on the highway at night are purely for convenience and pleasure.

SAFETY comes first. It's a simple choice.


shipnil 16th January 2013 18:20

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving

Originally Posted by GTO (Post 3017085)
• Poorly illuminated roads. Especially watch out for dividers that start without any warning!

I had a bad experience of this. Back in 2006/07, while returning from Matheran to Mumbai in the evening, I had climbed onto a divider in Panvel. Back in those days, the Panvel flyover was not there. When I entered Panvel, I was behind a slow Omni driven by an elderly gentleman. He did not let me pass for quite some time which made me impatient. I don't remember the exact location but think it was after passing the Panvel Bus Station, he moved to left. I took it as a sign of giving way and acclerated forward only to realize that right side of my car climbed onto something. I went quite some distance with two of my wheels on divider before I pulled it to the left and came back on the road. It was a divider which was 6 to 8 inches in height.

Shiv_1984 16th January 2013 18:53

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
That was a solid compilation of reasons for me not to venture out on Highways when its dark unless out of compulsion.
IMO, night driving should be preferred only when confident, healthy, planned well and most importantly you have a good and vigilant co-driver.

Thanks GTO.

Guna 16th January 2013 19:22

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving

Originally Posted by GTO (Post 3017085)
• Trucks & cars with only a single headlamp working. From a distance, these might be mistaken for a two-wheeler.

Many times the working lamp is on the left side of these vehicles, and if you miss the unlit side, you can collide them head on!

Tractors are very dangerous as the lights are located much inside the actual track and on top it they may be carrying something which protrudes on either sides.

smekad 16th January 2013 19:30

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
Thanks GTO for exhaustive list.. More reasons for not driving at night!

For me driving is also about enjoying the unexplored landscape, people and cuisine, which is best done in daylight.:)

vasanthn21 16th January 2013 19:49

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
Very useful article GTO.

Some points:

> Increase the distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you when compared with normal day light driving. I have seen some drivers tailgating at 3 digit speeds - absolutely careless.
> If someone is trying to overtake you, slow down to let them overtake, especially on a single lane road (same applies when another vehicle is coming from the opposite direction in your lane trying to ovetake a vehicle in opposite direction)
> Slow down while crossing villages, petrol pumps, dhabas etc where people could be moving around.
> Avoid all arguements at any cost - even when the other person has wronged you.
> If possible; have the co-passemgers talking to you regularly.


Originally Posted by shipnil (Post 3017167)
I had a bad experience of this. Back in 2006/07, while returning from Matheran to Mumbai in the evening, I had climbed onto a divider in Panvel. Back in those days, the Panvel flyover was not there. When I entered Panvel, I was behind a slow Omni driven by an elderly gentleman. He did not let me pass for quite some time which made me impatient. I don't remember the exact location but think it was after passing the Panvel Bus Station, he moved to left. I took it as a sign of giving way and acclerated forward only to realize that right side of my car climbed onto something. I went quite some distance with two of my wheels on divider before I pulled it to the left and came back on the road. It was a divider which was 6 to 8 inches in height.

I relate with this, my first ever highway drive was night drive. I almost had a similar experience, only difference was that I ended up standing on the brakes and avoiding going on the divider.
After this I stopped for some time to relax myself and also to clean the windshield.

Omtoatom 16th January 2013 21:13

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
As has become the norm GTO; thank you very much for a comprehensive piece! :thumbs up

Personally I'm wary of both driving and being driven at night on the highways. Usually avoid it unless absolutely necessary. Not because I'm scared in any way myself but it is significantly more prone to risk than is driving during the daytime. A lot of variables outside of your control could (and usually do) go horribly wrong.

Also if I do end up driving, I make sure I don't drive for more than 2 to 2 1/2 hours at a stretch; after which I break my journey and therefore the invariably associated monotony/tedium.

I agree - drive at night only if the driver or you are well-rested, fully cognizant and most importantly in the right state between the ears. No confidence, no wheel.

Drive safe people!

SS-Traveller 16th January 2013 22:24

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
@GTO: Thanks for an article with certain pointers that I have lived with over a LONG time, while driving on highways. I would like to add some more, in the form of some rules that I follow, in case they are of help to others.

Rule #1: I can drive only as fast as my stopping distance.
Check the range of your headlamps on a long, dark stretch of road. On high beam, and then on low beam, ask someone to walk away from the car while you sit in the driver's seat. Once you cannot see half of the person, check the distance. Type "car stopping distance calculator" into Google and use any one of a multitude (e.g. to figure out how fast you should be travelling under different road conditions.
My headlamps are (I think) good for ~30-40m on low beam, and ~100-110m on high beam. Go do the maths now!

Rule #2: I skip dinner on night drives.
A filled stomach triggers all those weird physiological mechanisms and hormones & enzymes in your body, which in turn invariably compel the brain to shut down. I prefer my mints, cigarettes and light snacks like biscuits during those times. What you snack on is your choice, but try not to keep stuff that scatters easily and is difficult to pick up blindly. Bhujias and peanuts are stuff I try to avoid.

Rule #3: Nothing must obstruct my vision. I need to see everything.
I don't use tinted/polarized/photochromatic glasses (I wear prescription lenses) while driving. My lenses, as well as the windscreen, has to be scratch-free and halo-free. My wipers have to be streak-free when used with the windscreen washer (I chuck out wiper blades almost twice a year, and I have been called extravagant because of it - but a crash at night is a LOT more expensive).
I also usually run through a full bottle of washer fluid (my concoction is water with a few drops of a liquid dish washing soap like Pril) during a single night's drive.

Rule #4: Every single light on the car must work well.
I check this religiously, and have delayed departure times on a few occasions on account of a blown tail-light or number plate light bulb. I carry a spare headlamp bulb with me all the time - and yes, I have also swapped bulbs in the middle of the night! Call me mad, but even if I miss noticing that tractor-trolley crossing the highway, there are less chances that he will miss seeing me this way. And my headlamps are focussed exactly as they should be!

Rule #5: I MUST be wide awake.
  • A tissue / small towel soaked in ice cold water applied to the face, neck and eyes (pull over before you do the last bit, please!).
  • Cigarettes (but don't let that smoke get into your eyes)
  • A mug of hot & sweet coffee.
  • Energy drinks like Red Bull or Tzinga (I've never tried them)
  • Loud foot-tapping music to sing along to. On a recent drive across Thailand, I discovered too late that our rental car did not have an USB port, making the pen drives we carried, useless. We bought a Gangnam Style CD from a 7-Eleven, and played it over and over till the CD begged to be spared further abuse! :D Then we sang our own songs at the top of our voices, bereft of much musical quality, but keeping all of us wide awake nonetheless.
  • Very spicy snacks - Kurkure for example, or a raw onion, or a little bit of raw chili.
Take your pick from the above, see what suits you, and also suggest anything else that you think helps to keep you awake. Keep away from alcohol for a 12-hour period before you start driving. And if you can, cat-nap for even 15-20 minutes just before setting off.

Rule #6: I am extremely suspicious & cautious of changes in the colour of the road (tarmac) surface, and increase/decrease in the level of darkness beyond the reach of my headlights.
The road might have curved without warning. There may have been a cave-in of the road surface. Or the scariest moment of my life that happened, could happen to you.

This was a night drive sometime in 1990-91 IIRC, on the old single-lane NH2. Somewhere in eastern UP, the road ahead seemed blacker than normal, and even the night sky beyond the headlamps of my Amby appeared darker. I throttled back and slowed down, and smelt a weird oily kind of smell (one of the benefits of not having an air-conditioned car!). The road seemed to be soaked in oil. Tried braking gently, and set off a four-wheel skid for a short while. And then we arrived at this obstruction.

An oil tanker had overturned on to its side, the top its tank facing me. A black tank, probably used to transport burnt oils/furnace oil/naphtha or whatever. The oil had leaked and spread all around, and trucks coming the other way had spread the oil with their tyres for a long way. And impacted (that's the only appropriate word that comes to mind!) into the middle of the tanker's tank, with its chassis broken into two and bent into an acute V shape from the middle, sat a Jeep.

I managed to pull up just in time. Sat there, and breathed in the oily smell, and thanked the Almighty for not letting us follow the Jeep. The whole road was blocked, and one had to go through a kutcha track on one side, where a potent mix of mud and oil churned up by other vehicles earlier, almost got us stuck.

Since then, I have always, always replayed that scene in my mind whenever the road colour or the sky colour seems different from the usual.

Edit: @GTO: I think you now have to write an ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe Driving in FOG. Before the fog season in North India is over for the next 11 months or so...

anjan_c2007 16th January 2013 23:21

Re: ARTICLE: Guidelines & Tips for Safe NIGHT Driving
Thanks Rushabh for the wise lines on night driving. As a rule, reading between the lines, night driving on our Indian highways need to be totally avoided as a RULE, unless there is an unavoidable emergency.
I have made it a rule not to venture further and halt at the nearest town/ city to rest and commence the journey the next morning.
After dusk and more so after dark, most of the truck drivers start making merry at the wheel. Gradually, they begin to exercise their sovereignity over the roads and the phrase painted on many trucks "KING OF THE ROAD" comes full circle.
Our cars/ SUV's weigh anything from 800 Kg to 2000 Kg or may be a little less or more. Whereas, a fully loaded average truck that should be weighing 7.5 tonnes, is overloaded to 11 or even 12 tonnes. It happens only in India. So its 1 or 2 tonne/s versus the 11 or 12 tonnes.
Once about two decades back, while driving a Mahindra Jeep CJ 4A from Hyderabad to Mancherial on the state highway, the oncoming line of trucks with headlights in full beam made me slow down to around 10-15 kmph and even slower. It was past 11 pm. While moving ahead and sticking to the extreme left, my friend and co-passenger on the left told me something to my horror ! The jeep's left front wheel had climbed the culvert /battered wall of a road bridge. There was a nullah below and the jeep was moving on. I immediately stopped, applied the handbrake (the handbrakes of older Indian made Jeeps were the least effective). After the trucks had passed, the jeep was very, very carefully moved ahead and to the right, to drive across the battered wall, that was almost the height of the road.
I vowed never to venture again for night drives unless there is an emergency.
Moreover umpteen accidents have taken place, wherein static trucks parked on highways (mostly under breakdown) have been hit by cars at night seriously injuring or killing the car's occupants.
So a final "No" to Night Driving!:Shockked:

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