Whether you're driving home for Christmas or commuting to and from work, these tips will help you stay safe and feel secure when driving in the dark.
- Even if you're super experienced at driving in the dark, always be extra vigilant when you're on the road
- Make sure your car is fit for the journey, plan your route and let someone know you are travelling
- Will Dron, Editor of Driving.co.uk, shares his tips for better night driving
1. Let there (always) be light!
Keeping your headlights on even before dusk on gloomy days could increase visibility - not just for you, but for other drivers trying to pick out cars on the road ahead, or in their mirrors.
We all know we need to put on our car headlights at night, but that’s not the only form of light you need. According to the Highway Code, sidelights and rear registration plate lights should be lit at night.
A good rule of thumb is simply, if in doubt, let the light shine out. So, keep your headlights on when driving at night on unlit roads and when visibility is reduced, such as in rain or fog. Just switch off your fog lights whenever they're not needed.
2. Brush up on your skills
The man in charge of the busiest roads in Britain, Superintendent Robert Revill, Roads and Transport Policing Command for the Metropolitan Police Service, is a big believer in the value of a regular Highway Code refresh.
He recommends all drivers brush up on their Highway Code each winter in preparation for more driving in the dark and keep up with the latest guidance from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). What these resources underline, he says, is that "common sense is often all that is needed".
3. Get a grip! Check your tyres for tread and pressure
Lower visibility and light levels when driving at night pose challenges in terms of reaction times. Keeping your stopping distance down can help enormously. As the nights draw in, check that your tyres have a tread depth of more than 1.6mm across their breadth to ensure good grip - especially on the wintery roads. In snow you should aim for 3mm.
If you buy special winter tyres, many garages and national car servicing brands offer a storage service, where they'll keep your summer tyres for free over winter and vice versa. They’ll also be happy to give you a tyre tread check.
This is a great idea, as the tyre check you get as standard with your annual MOT only checks that your tread is within legal limits for roadworthiness, and not that it’s the optimum for poor conditions.
4. Take a fresh look: clear your windows
Night brings darkness, but also lower temperatures on both sides of the glass. Even small areas of frost can create a blind spot, so de-frost your windows and side mirrors thoroughly on cold nights. If you have a heated windscreen, turn it on to help remove the frost and stop any snowfall settling.
Many people now use windscreen blankets, so they don't have to wait for the windscreen to clear before leaving.
5. Shine on: glow with satisfaction in a high-visibility car kit
If you break down at night, you'll want to be seen more easily. Winter car kits contain reflective warning triangles, high visibility jackets and a torch. There may also be useful items like whistles, safety hammers and a first aid kit.
If you are concerned about breaking down and not being able to use your car, ask your insurance company about their breakdown cover and in what circumstances they provide a courtesy car.
6. Charge up your phone, double up on essentials
One good rule of thumb is to keep a couple of 'doubles' in the car just in case. A spare battery or portable charger for your phone (and ideally, a fully charged phone before you leave the house) can give you that all-important peace of mind. The Highway Code suggests making sure you're covered by taking a spare pullover or coat for each occupant, a warm drink and a snack any time you need to drive at night.
7. Give your sat nav a reality check
If you're driving far, or don't know the way, it's worth looking twice at any route your sat nav (or your road atlas) throws up - and even having a quick Google or checking Street View, if it's covered.
Look ahead for weather warnings before you choose your route and consider the fact that some motorways and roads may close at night so that repairs can be carried out with the least amount of disruption.
Let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to arrive - this will make it easier to find you at night if you have any problems.
One good rule of thumb is to keep a couple of 'doubles' in the car just in case. A spare battery or portable charger for your phone (and ideally, a fully charged phone before you leave the house) can give you that all-important peace of mind.
8. Take it easy, take it slow
If you drive your car at night, give yourself even more time to react and be aware that other road users will be experiencing the same conditions as you.
"Give everyone that extra bit of time and space," says Neil Greig, Director of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart - as even if you’re familiar with your surroundings, other drivers may not be.
Many people are aware that icy or wet conditions mean stopping distances can increase threefold, but it's also worth considering manoeuvring distances. If the cars in front of you stop, it's always good to know you've left yourself options in terms of space for turning around to take an alternative route.
9. Know the sounds, as well as the sights, to watch out for
Black ice is a winter hazard around the clock where wet and freezing conditions combine. It's often found in sheltered road sections, under trees and on bridges - and it can be tough to spot even in full daylight.
But according to IAM RoadSmart, drivers can use their ears as well as their eyes to identify slippery patches.
"The main clue is a sudden drop in tyre noise," says Neil Greig. This underscores the value of sound to drivers at night - and the potential benefits of switching the music off. After all, with less to go on visually on a night drive, all sensory input from the road around you can help.
And if you hear the tell-tale sound of the tyre pressure dropping?
"Keeping speed low in cold conditions will help you to regain control - but the key is smooth and slow steering and braking inputs until the hazard is cleared," says Greig.
10. If you feel tired, take a break
It’s a perennial message, but worth repeating: if it's dark, it’s easy to lose track of time. Late night driving and long journeys can lead to tiredness behind the wheel, so make sure your body and mind are topped up, fully charged and working properly, as well as your phone and your car. After all, the driver is arguably the most critical component of all.
"If you feel tired during the journey then you should find somewhere to stop as soon as possible," is the guidance from RoSPA It's tempting to think that two strong coffees and a 15-minute nap can help, but ultimately, you may need to find a place to stop overnight.
11. Drive like a boss: join the experts
Taking a Pass Plus course can help you gain skills and confidence for driving at night and in wet and wintery conditions. You could also get more acquainted with your vehicle.
"Learn what features your car has to help you deal with adverse weather," advises Neil Greig.
By following these 11 top tips, you can enjoy your night driving this winter - and, in fact, all year round.
Will Dron is the Editor of the Sunday Times Driving website. You can find him on Twitter @wdron
Make sure you and your car are protected fully with the right car insurance so you can continue driving in the dark with confidence.