BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – While this weekend’s time change brings an initial extra hour of sleep, AAA warns drivers to stay focused on the road as it gets dark earlier. Driving in the dark means drivers will need to take steps to avoid drowsy driving and pay extra attention to their headlights and vision.
“Driving in the dark is more risky for any driver,” said Jenifer Moore, AAA spokeswoman. “Reduced visibility and the prevalence of drowsy driving are just two of the dangers that drivers face on dark roads. It’s up to all of us to do our part to stay alert and be careful when driving at night.”
Don’t Be Asleep at the Wheel:
Drowsy driving is a significant traffic safety issue. By “falling back,” many think they are gaining an extra hour of sleep, but the time change can throw off sleep schedules and create drowsiness down the road. According to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research:
- Drivers who have slept less than five hours have a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.
- Drivers who miss one or two hours of sleep can nearly double their risk of a crash.
- 96% of drivers view drowsy driving as extremely dangerous, but about a quarter (24%) admit to driving drowsy when they are so tired they have a hard time keeping their eyes open.
As West Virginians do more driving in the dark, AAA recommends drivers:
- Prioritize getting at least seven hours of sleep before a long drive.
- Travel at times of the day when you are normally awake.
- Avoid heavy foods before driving.
- Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment. If you are unsure if your medication falls into this category, visit RoadwiseRX.com. This tool can help you determine medication side effects and interactions.
Focus on Visibility:
Dark conditions can make it harder to see when driving, and a lack of visibility can make for unsafe driving conditions. Vehicle headlights can start showing signs of deterioration after just three years. Aged headlights reduce light output by more than 80%, which can make it difficult to see an animal or object in front of your car until it’s too late.
AAA recommends the following additional tips:
- Check headlights for signs of discoloration, such as yellowed or cloudy appearance. If it’s difficult to see the bulb through the lens, have the headlights replaced or restored as soon as possible. Both professional and DIY restoration can restore light output back to about 70%. For more information, visit the AAA Newsroom.
- Decrease speed and increase following distance to four seconds or more to compensate for reduced visibility.
- Keep your eyes moving, scanning the road ahead. Avoid focusing on the middle of the area illuminated by your headlights. Watch for sudden flashes of light at hilltops, around curves, or at intersections, because these may indicate the presence of oncoming vehicles.
- Avoid being blinded by oncoming high beams. If the driver of an oncoming vehicle fails to dim the lights, look down toward the right side of the road, and stay the course until the vehicle passes.
Changes in eyesight can also contribute to increased risks when driving in the dark. Research shows senior drivers need significantly more light to see than younger drivers.
“As we age, our pupils get smaller and don’t dilate as much in dark conditions, making it more difficult to see at night,” said Moore. “By age 60, eyes need three times as much light to see as they did at age 20. That means drivers with vision problems that may affect driving as well as senior drivers should take extra care when driving after dark.”
Those with concerns about their vision should consult an eye professional. Wear glasses if necessary and consider anti-glare coating for the lenses. Many people need glasses for night driving only, so don’t be reluctant to look into this option. Others need to minimize or avoid driving at night altogether.
For additional information and a visual on how light requirements change over time, visit AAA’s Senior Driving website.