There’s one good thing about the clocks going back: that extra hour in bed. But payback for most of us is that it also signals months of spending more time at the wheel when it’s either dusk or dark. Allied to colder, damper weather making conditions difficult it’s one of the most difficult times of year to be driving.
A study of seasonal patterns over eight years concluded that there were 10 per cent more collisions killing or injuring a pedestrian in the four weeks after the clocks go back compared to the four weeks before they change.
To help keep drivers safe, we’ve asked driver training experts IAM Roadsmart for added tips on driving in poor light conditions. The Institute of Advanced Motorists’ head of driving standards, Richard Gladman, said: “Per mile driven the risk of a crash is actually higher at night despite the quieter roads. Getting used to driving at night can take time so take it easy until the old skills come back and you can start to enjoy the new challenges.”
When you’re driving at dusk or in the dark, visibility is key. As the sun goes down in winter the light can change rapidly: one minute you might need sunglasses, the next it’s almost dark. But one thing that can have an impact on how well you see is how clean your car’s glass is. Car windows, particularly windscreens, get dirty on the inside as well as the outside. Ventilation blows pollution at the glass which causes a film to build up on the inside of the window. This can cause unhelpful reflections from on-coming headlamps which might mask potential hazards.
Check your lights
You also need to check your lights. As darkness falls, it can be harder to spot cars than you might appreciate when you’re behind the wheel. Turn dipped headlamps on well before dusk to ensure other drivers can see you clearly. The IAM’s Richard Gladman added: “Do a daily walk around of your car to check all lights are working. Use a wall or garage door to check the rear lights if you are on your own. Changing a bulb on a modern car is often a garage-only job. Get it done before the police stop you and issue a ticket or repair notice.”
Keep them dipped
Think about when you glance at the sun and you’re temporarily blinded as your eyes adjust. The same thing happens when headlights on main beam come at you. Richard Gladman said: “One of the biggest night-time hazards is the dazzle effect caused by the bright light from on-coming motors. Dip your headlights when you meet other vehicles.”
How familiar really is familiar?
How well do you know your route? Even if you think you could drive to work with your eyes closed, you may want to reappraise. Richard Gladman explained: “Familiar routes can pose totally different challenges in the dark so make sure you are wide awake and looking out for pedestrians and cyclists in the gloom.”
Do we need to drive in the dark?
Of course most of us drive in the dark because we have to, not because we enjoy it. But do we really have to drive after the sun has gone down? The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) believes having the clocks go back for winter is unnecessary. It claims that adopting what it calls Single/Double Summer Time (current summer time (GMT +1 hour) for winter; GMT +2 hours in the summer) would create lighter evenings all year round.
What if the clocks going back didn’t happen?
Official figures show that road deaths rose from 27 in September 2015 to 42 in October, 45 in November and 58 in December. A Department for Transport study claims that a move to lighter evenings would save around 80 lives per year.