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A busy British motorway at night in the rain with a Police car on the hard shoulder

Tips for driving in the dark

Driving in the dark brings a whole new set of challenges if you want to make stress-free progress. Read on to find out how to prepare for a night-time drive, and what to watch out for along the way.

Midnight motoring can seem intimidating at first. Obviously you can see far less when the sun’s set, and not every road is illuminated by street lights. Which brings us on to our first tip for driving in the dark.

Before you set off – check your headlights

Your car’s headlights are one of the most important safety features you have, so make sure they’re working! Check all your bulbs light up on both low and high beam, and get any blown bulbs replaced straight away. Use this as an opportunity to check your indicator bulbs too – stick your hazard warning lights on and walk around your car while you’re parked.

Driving with only one headlight working will make it harder for you to see, but it also makes it harder for other motorists to see you. They may also think you’re a motorcycle and, if you get stopped by the police with only one headlight working, you can expect a £100 fine and three points on your licence.

If you drive an older car, the plastic lenses on your headlights can cloud over as the years pass, reducing the light they emit. You can buy headlight restoration kits to clear the plastic – you just need a drill or some elbow grease to buff the headlights back to life. You’ll also need clear headlight lenses for your car to pass its MOT test.

Before you set off – clean your windows

A dirty or stone-chipped windscreen can turn a night-time drive into a nightmare drive. Other cars’ headlights will highlight every smear and smudge on your windscreen, stopping you from seeing out effectively. So give your windscreen a proper clean with a vinegar-based windscreen cleaner, and keep a bottle of it in your glovebox along with a microfibre cloth. If your windscreen is badly chipped, consider getting it replaced on your car insurance for a minimal fee.

While you’re cleaning your windscreen, clean off your side and back windows, and give your door mirrors a shine, too – you’ll be grateful for it once the sun sets.

When you’re driving – know how to use your headlights

It sounds silly, but make sure you know how to turn your headlights on. Usually by using either a twist of a control stalk behind the steering wheel or a dial on the dashboard to the right of the steering wheel. You’ll want to use your dipped headlights as dusk approaches, and keep them on if you’re driving in the early hours of dawn. This will help other cars see you against a low sun.

Only use your main beams if there are no other cars about – they can easily dazzle other drivers even if they’re quite far away, so switch back to dipped beams as soon as there’s another car in view. Your main beams are most useful on unlit country roads. You can tell when your main beam’s on by way of an illuminated blue headlight symbol on your dashboard.

Don’t stare at the glare

It’s easy to be mesmerised by the headlights of oncoming cars at night, so make a conscious effort not to stare at other cars’ headlights. Not only will this stop you from being distracted, but the glare from other cars’ headlights can dazzle you and stop you spotting upcoming hazards.

A good tip is to keep your eyes well ahead and to the left, keeping an eye on the white line marking out the left-hand edge of the road. If the glare from other cars is affecting your vision, slow down a little.

Take extra care around town

It sounds obvious, but pedestrians and cyclists will be far harder to spot at night. So slow down around town and give yourself time to stop in case a pedestrian steps out in front of you. Make doubly sure to do this near schools, and watch out for distracted young trick-or-treaters stepping into the road at the end of October.

Be aware of wildlife

A deer crossing an urban road at night time using a zebra crossing

This tip is especially important when driving at night through quiet rural areas. Nocturnal animals such as deer are much more likely to run across the road in front of you at night. Keep an eye out for reflections from their eyes at the side of the road, and be prepared to slow down or stop if you see any wildlife. Most importantly, remember that if one deer runs across in front of you, more are likely to follow close behind. Slow right down and prepare to stop if it’s safe to do so.