Night driving: top tips for driving in the dark

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Speed and focus
Cyclists and walkers
Driving tired

Driving at night can be a bit nerve wracking, especially when you’re a learner driver.

Poor visibility, glaring lights, and nocturnal animals are all things to be aware of. Plus, breaking down at unsociable hours comes with an even bigger headache than usual.

If you’re wary about heading out on the roads in the dark, your best bet is to build up your confidence bit by bit by starting out with shorter journeys.

We’ve got even more tips for boosting your confidence below👇

Night driving essentials 🎒

Before you head out, make sure you’ve got some night driving essentials to hand:

  • A torch in case you break down and need to check your engine or tyres
  • A warm coat or jumper in case you break down and need to wait a while for assistance
  • A fully charged phone
  • De-icer in case you break down in cold weather (your car will frost up quicker at night)
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Make sure you’re using the right lights 🔆

Using the front and rear lights on your car at night is a legal requirement – if you’re caught driving in the dark with a busted light, you could get pulled over. So make sure to check all your lights regularly, and get any broken bulbs fixed straight away.

You should drive with your dipped headlights on from about an hour before sunset, until around an hour after sunrise.

If you find yourself driving on a really dark country road, you should put your full beam lights on - these are also sometimes called high beams. But make sure to turn them off if you see a car coming from the opposite direction, as you shouldn’t dazzle them.

If you’re nervous about this, spend some time getting familiar with all your light controls before you set off. That way, you won’t be fumbling in the dark when it comes to needing to use them.

A lot of newer cars have an ‘auto’ feature that means your dipped headlights turn on and off automatically depending on how dark or light it is. Just keep in mind, you’ll still need to turn full beam lights on and off yourself.

Hazards that might be easy to see during the day can surprise you while night driving
Hazards that might be easy to see during the day can surprise you while night driving

Don’t stare directly at bright lights

When it’s dark out, the lights of oncoming cars can be dazzling. You know that weird sensation where you look at a light then get bright spots in your eyes? This can be really distracting while you’re driving, so it’s important to avoid staring directly at oncoming cars.

Aim to keep your gaze slightly to the left, and follow the white lines on the road to keep you in position. If you do accidentally get dazzled, stay calm and slow down if you need to – but never slam the brakes on as there might be a car behind you.

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Drive more slowly and reduce distractions 🔕

Driving at night generally takes more concentration. You’ve got less visibility, and lights and reflective signs can make it harder to focus on the road. So it’s always best to drive a bit more slowly than you would during the day.

It’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got minimal distractions in the car too. You might want to keep the radio off or on a low volume, for example, and turn the sound off your phone so it’s not pinging away in the background.

Watch out for animals 🦊

Nocturnal animals can run out into the road at night, often when they get startled by a car’s headlights.

There’ll be road signs warning of certain animals in places where this is particularly likely to happen. It’s a good idea to drive more slowly in these areas, so you’re more prepared in case an animal does run out.

Don’t assume there won’t be any animals if there are no warning signs though. Driving late at night or very early in the morning usually means there’s more wildlife about.

So if you’re driving near open fields, you should regularly scan ahead for any enthusiastic animals making a dart for it across the road.

Spotting cyclists and walkers in the dark 🚲

In the UK winter, you’ll be driving in the dark from around 4pm or 5pm. This means you'll probably be contending with cyclists, pedestrians and even children on the roads post-sunset.

This shouldn’t be a problem in well lit areas, but it’s important to remember there may be cyclists on darker country roads, and even pedestrians crossing darker streets.

Keep your eyes peeled and remember you’ll need to pay extra attention than you would in full daylight. It helps to train your eye to spot reflective gear too, and to look out for any unusual lights (some people put the torch light on their phones when walking down a dark road).

Make sure your car headlights are on from roughly an hour before sunset and after sunrise
Make sure your car headlights are on from roughly an hour before sunset and after sunrise

Driving tired 💤

It’s really important not to get behind the wheel if you're tired.

If you’re driving late at night or going out on a long journey during the night, you should always pull over if you spot any of these signs of tiredness:

  • You’re yawning or blinking a lot
  • You’re struggling to remember the last stretch of road or few miles that you’ve driven
  • You find yourself drifting in and out of your lane
  • You find yourself driving over the rumble strip on certain roads

You should pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so, have some caffeine and take a nap.

And remember - you’re also more likely to come across tired drivers, or people who are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, at night.

If you spot anyone driving erratically, avoid getting too close to them, or change route. You could also call the police if you think it’s needed – say, if someone is possibly drunk driving and is a clear danger. Just make sure you pull over somewhere safe to call them.

Driving at night if you have astigmatism 👀

People with astigmatism (a condition that causes blurry vision) might find that driving at night makes their condition worse.

This is because our pupils dilate more when there’s less light, which – for people with astigmatism – can make vision blurrier. It can also cause halos around bright lights, and make oncoming headlights look distorted.

These problems should be solved with the right prescription glasses or lenses. But it can also help to:

  • Use an anti-reflection treatment on your glasses
  • Ask your optician about glasses with lenses designed specifically for driving
  • Ask your optician about special ‘toric’ soft contact lenses, which fit the specific shape of your eye and can help with particularly bad astigmatism

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Don’t forget the golden rule: whether you’re driving at night or during the day, you need car insurance.

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Updated on 3rd April 2023