The single biggest risk factor
Fifty-six percent of teen crash deaths occur between 6 pm and 6 am1. As reported by a 2010 study by Texas A&M Transportation Institute, this is mostly because it’s harder to see at night, driving while tired, and teens are new to driving and don’t have a lot of experience. This is why most states don’t allow new drivers to drive late at night.
What happens to our vision at night:
- The average person’s field of vision is smaller without the aid of light, and glare from oncoming headlights can further limit the ability to see clearly and avoid hazards2.
- High Intensity lights are becoming more common. These lights are brighter to on-coming traffic and require your eyes to adjust faster3.
- It is more difficult to judge other vehicle’s speeds and distances at night.
- Dusk is the most dangerous time since your eyes are constantly having to adjust to more darkness4.
- On average, 64% of all teen crashes in 2015 occurred on two way undivided roadways6. A majority of crashes that occurred on these roadways were fatal (35%)5.
- Rural roadways can be especially dangerous at night due to higher numbers of unlit roadways.
What to do about poor visibility:
- As always, wear your seat belt. The danger of driving at night should not be multiplied by being unsecured.
- Keep distractions to a minimum so the driver can keep their eyes and attention on the road.
- Make sure the driver turns the headlights on at dusk and observes night driving safety as soon as the sun goes down4.
- Alert the driver if the headlights and/or windshield are dirty. A thin film of dirt on the headlights can reduce visibility3.
- Make sure the headlights are properly aimed. Unaligned headlights blind other drivers and reduce the driver’s ability to see the road4.
As it gets dark outside and gets harder to see:
- Ask the driver if the headlights are on.
- Keep your eyes open and help the driver watch the road.
- If the driver seems to be driving too fast, remind them that they should be able to stop inside the headlights illuminated area4.
The problem of drowsy driving:
- Research suggests that teens should have 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. Most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights6.
- Being awake for 18 hours is similar to having a blood alcohol concentration of .05 and .10 after 24 hrs. .08 is legally intoxicated for adults over 219.
- Young drivers have a higher risk of falling asleep behind the wheel9.
- Sleepiness or fatigue causes the following9:
- Impaired reaction time, judgment, and vision
- Problems with information processing and short-term memory
- Decreased performance, vigilance, and motivation
- Increased moodiness and aggressive behaviors
- Make sure the driver is alert. Just like drugs or alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, and impairs judgment. Just like alcohol, sleepiness can be fatal when driving4.
If the driver is having a hard time staying awake:
- Talk to him or her. Just as you should not swim alone, drivers should avoid driving alone for long distances. You can help by staying awake for the journey and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
- Turn on the radio and maybe even sing along with the music together.
- Recommend that the driver stop and walk around or get something to eat or drink.
- Watch for these signs of the driver being tired and ask to pull over9:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
- Trouble keeping his/her head up
- Drifting across the lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips
- Missing exits or traffic signs
- Yawning repeatedly
- Acting restless, irritable, or aggressive
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2015
- Texas A&M Transportation Institute
- AAA Foundation
- National Safety Council
- National highway traffic safety, Query of FARS database
- National Sleep Foundation
- National Sleep Foundation: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/expert-consensus-panel-concludes-missing-night-sleep-renders-drivers-unfit
- Liberty Mutual & SADD: https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/new-study-finds-teens-fear-of-missing-out-is-proving-to-be-dangerous