As the days get shorter and winter approaches, Canadians are spending more time driving at night and in the rain, ice and snow. When visibility is limited, all the hazards of driving in good conditions are amplified — you can see less of the road ahead, reaction time is slower and, if you’re driving at night, you’re more likely to be fatigued. With the heightened risks, it’s important to be extra cautious when driving in less-than-perfect conditions. Follow these tips to make sure you always arrive safely at your destination.
Know the lights on your vehicle (and use them properly)
Get to know your lighting settings and where to adjust them in your driver’s manual. The first position of the light switch on most vehicles controls the tail lights, parking lights and side-marker lights. The second position activates your low beams, which should be turned on half an hour before sunrise and sunset, or when visibility is restricted by rain or snow.
High beams should only be used on unlit roads when there are no other vehicles around. This setting illuminates the road 350-500 feet in front of the vehicle and can blind drivers within 150 metres ahead.
If you’re driving in the fog or snow, avoid using your high beams at all. Their powerful glow reflects off the moisture droplets and will only obscure vision further. Use your low beams instead, and if it’s foggy, turn on your fog lights. This setting illuminates a broader surface area than your low beams (but keep them off when driving in regular conditions, as they can blind drivers in front of you).
Ensure you have the best visibility possible
If driving with a dirty windshield is an annoyance by day, it’s highly dangerous in the dark. Make sure your windshield is clean on the inside and outside, as grime can scatter light and increase glare and condensation. Dirty side mirrors pose the same problems, distorting light and producing excess glare, so keep them clean as well. Try to have cracks in the windshield repaired as soon as possible.
Bright dashboard lights can hinder night vision and be a distraction — the same reason you should never turn on your interior lights at night — dim them when driving to reduce the glare from your windshield and allow your eyes to better adjust. Similarly, if your car’s inside rear view mirror is equipped with a night mode or auto-dim setting, switch it on at night.
Reduce headlight glare
When an oncoming vehicle’s lights are shining directly in your eyes, don’t stare into them. Keep your speed steady and shift your eyes down and to the right white line as you approach. If you’re being blinded by the reflection of headlights in your rear view mirror, temporarily tip your mirror down until you can let them pass.
Keep your eyes peeled
Driving in the dark or in poor visibility makes spotting pedestrians and bikers much more difficult. According to 2020 research by CAA, 1 in 3 cyclist deaths occur at night or in artificial lighting, and 34% of cyclists who were killed in crashes had been struck by a vehicle in the dark. Make sure your eyes are constantly sweeping the road for unexpected obstacles. Reduce distractions by turning down music and switching your phone off.
Much of Canada’s wildlife is nocturnal and more likely to be on the road at night. Train your eyes to spot the reflection of your headlights in the eyes of animals. If you see a pair of eyes shining in the dark ahead, slow down as quickly as possible without veering off the road.
Take your time
There’s no need to rush when you’re behind the wheel, especially when driving in treacherous conditions. If you’re driving at night or in bad weather, increase your following distance to five seconds from the car in front of you. Avoid overdriving, which occurs when you’re driving fast enough that your stopping distance is further than you can see with your headlights. This can be incredibly dangerous — another good reason to ease up on the gas.
If you’re driving in heavy rain, snow or the roads might be icy, look ahead and drive slowly, reducing speed to 10-15 km under the speed limit. For more tips on driving in winter conditions, see our blog on Winter Road Tips for Safe Driving.
Prepare and plan ahead
Don’t leave it until you’re already on the road to realize your vehicle isn’t equipped for the conditions. Make sure you always drive with an emergency kit in the car (here’s what to pack in yours). Check the weather ahead of time and delay your trip if necessary. If you’re already on the road and driving in dense fog, pull over in a safe place until it passes.
Check your tire tread before heading out. An easy trick is to insert a penny in the tread, if the Queen’s entire head is visible, your tread depth is less than 2/32 inches and it’s time for new tires. See our blog on performing basic vehicle checks for more maintenance tips.
Windshield wipers should be replaced every 6-8 months — if they’re doing more harm than good, you know it’s time for a new pair.
Get your eyes checked
While often helpful or necessary, glasses add another reflective surface between your eyes and the road; that’s why it’s so important to get your eyes checked regularly. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends people from the ages of 20-39 get an eye exam every 2-3 years, adults from 40-64 years should get one every 2 years, and those above 65 should get one annually.
Avoid yellow-tinted glasses, as they actually allow less light in. The best glasses to wear are ones with an anti-glare coating. These prevent light from reflecting in the lens while allowing light to pass through. To reduce eye fatigue, keep your eyes scanning the road instead of on a fixed point. Fatigue-related road crashes are most likely to occur from 3 pm to 6 pm and from midnight to 7 am. If you’re feeling drowsy, avoid driving, fuel up on coffee or pull over where it’s safe and take a nap.