Combined with limited visibility and drowsiness, driving at night is dangerous, especially for teens.
Sixty percent (60%) of teen crash deaths occur between 6 pm and 6 am.1 As reported by a 2010 study by Texas A&M Transportation Institute, this is mostly because it’s harder to see at night, teens are driving while tired, they are new to driving and as a result, don’t have a lot of driving 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 hazards.
- High-Intensity lights are becoming more common. These lights are brighter to oncoming traffic and require your eyes to adjust faster.
- It is more difficult to judge other vehicles’ speeds and distances at night.
- Dusk can be a dangerous time to drive because there’s typically a lot of congestion and your eyes are constantly having to adjust to more darkness.
- Rural roadways can be especially dangerous at night due to higher numbers of unlit roadways. The number of urban fatalities has been larger than the number of rural fatalities since 2016.2
What to do about poor visibility:3
- 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 down.
- Alert the driver if the headlights and/or windshield are dirty. A thin film of dirt on the headlights can reduce visibility.
- Make sure the headlights are properly aimed. Unaligned headlights blind other drivers and reduce the driver’s ability to see the road.
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 area.3
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 nights.4
- A study done by the AAA Foundation found that a person is more at risk for a crash with the less sleep they get. A person is 12 times more likely to crash if they have less than 4 hours of sleep at night.5
- Young drivers have a higher risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.4
- Sleepiness or fatigue causes the following:4
- 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 driving.6
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 helping 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 over:7
- 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, 2021. Teen Fatality Facts 2019 https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/teenagers
- National Highway Traffic Safety, Rural/Urban Comparison of Traffic Fatalities, Traffic Safety Facts, 2018 data, https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812957
- National Safety Council: https://www2.safetyserve.com/articles/driving-at-night/
- National Sleep Foundation: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep
- AAA Foundation, Acute Sleep Deprivation and Risk of Motor Vehicle Crash Involvement, December 2016, http://publicaffairsresources.aaa.biz/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Acute-Sleep-Deprivation-and-Risk-of-Motor-Vehicle-Crash-Involvement.pdfNational Safety Council
- National Sleep Foundation: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/drowsy-driving/drowsy-driving-vs-drunk-driving
- DrowsyDriving.org: https://www.thensf.org/tips-for-preventing-drowsy-driving/
Updated July 2022