Saturday, November 17, 2012

13 tips for safe night driving

Night driving on Indian roads is not easy. There're many challenges including no road dividers, oncoming traffic using high beams, vehicles without any tail lamps/reflectors and so on. I've had my share of night driving and in this post, wish to share some tips and suggestions if you're driving in night.

1. Know your route: Before the journey, study the maps, read about road conditions and note down names of key cities and turning points. Driving will be safe and convenient if you know where to turn, what town to expect next. You'll also know that you've missed a turn. On the other hand, if you're driving on a road you've not driven before, half of your attention will be on road signs thinking if you're on the right way. Because it is dark and not many people to guide you, your anxiety can take the focus off driving and result in accidents. If you're confident/comfortable about the road you're driving on, half the battle is won.

2. Have a navigator if possible: If you have a partner who is not keen on sleeping as you drive, it is of great advantage. He/she can focus on maps, turns and other supplementary aspect, while you can focus on driving.

3. Take a road which has median/road divider. If you have an option, chose a road that has a median, so that there's safe gap between you and on coming traffic. Also trees/barricades on the median will reduce the impact of high beam. Example: Between ECR and GST road, I'd prefer GST for night driving.

4. Memorize the road ahead: Many a times high beam of oncoming traffic blinds us and we see nothing. On such situations, safest option is to slow down/come to a halt. However, before the oncoming vehicle blinded you, you'd have seen the road for few hundred meters. If you're confident enough, learn to memorize how the road will be for next few hundred meters. If the road is in your memory, you can drive for few seconds safely. Reflectors on the road will also aid in this. Once on coming traffic passes, assess rest of the road and proceed.

5. Take initiative and change to low beam. We often complain about other drivers not dimming the light and blinding us. How many times do we shift from high beam to low beam? Take the initiative, shift to low beam. This might remind the other driver that he too needs to do the same. Even otherwise, at least one of the driver not getting blind is safer than both drivers getting blinded momentarily.

6. Have a pilot vehicle. Tailing another vehicle (with safe gap) is a best way for night driving. if you find another car which is being driven comfortably, tail that car and you'll know how the road is turning, if there're any speed breakers etc. However, getting right pilot is tricky and you need luck. If you tail a slow moving vehicle you'll take forever to reach your destination. If you tail a very fast moving vehicle, you'll have to drive at a speed beyond your comfort zone and this can be risky.

7. Listen to your body: if you're tired/sleepy etc, your body will given out indications. Pullover and take some rest. Do not force yourself to drive under the compulsion of getting late etc. If not fully alert, judgment abilities dip significantly and may result in accidents. Drinking water/tea, washing face etc will help you refresh a bit. Singing loudly, or having a person to talk to etc reduces boredom and helps you drive safe.

Centre of the road will usually have reflectors. If the tyres go over them, you'll experience slight shaking (thud-thud sound). If this happens, it is an indication that you're not driving in a single lane. Take rest and regain focus.

Modern vehicles have features to detect drowsiness of the driver and alert him for a coffee break.

8. Expect surprises: Not all vehicles will have tail lamps. If you're passing through villages, expect to have cyclists, bullock carts, tractors etc on the road- these vehicles may not have any reflectors/tail lamps and you won't notice them during turns or during low beams till it is very late. Same is true about pot holes and speed breakers. You should always be able to stop within the visible distance you have ahead of you.

9. Observe on coming traffic. If head lights of oncoming vehicles is leaning towards left, then the road is turning left. If they're leaning towards right, then it might be a right turn. if you sense a sudden slowness at some point, then it could be a speed breaker/barricade/bad road. If there're headlights side by side, then it is a overtaking situation

10. Overtaking vigil: Overtaking in night needs extra caution. You should assess relative speed of two vehicles, visibility of road ahead, possibility of turns by vehicle ahead of you, oncoming traffic and obstacles like broken down vehicles etc. An over confident overtaking will confuse multiple drivers. Also be vary of aggressive drivers who won't give way that easily.

11. Do not use cruise control at night. Your vehicle may have cruise control, but do not use it at night. If you've to manually press the accelerator, at least you'll have some action and alertness. If you lift the leg, vehicle will slow down/stop. If set to cruise control, you're more likely to fall asleep as there's no much action expected from your body. Avoid cruise control at night. Similarly it is better to drive in manual mode than automatic transmission, as it gives some action to your body parts and help you stay active.

I also advise not listening to soothing music while driving at night. It might put you to sleep more easily.

12. Check if your driver had enough rest. If you're traveling in a rented vehicle, before the journey have a casual conversation with him, find out for how busy he was before this trip. If he'd been driving continuously for past few days, then he's not received enough rest and there's a big risk in this. During peak season drivers are forced to work without rest- at times this can have fatal consequences. If he's not got enough rest, either try to get a replacement driver or ask him to sleep for few hours before the trip begins.
13. Drive with windows down slightly. This is recommended for one particular reason- driving with windows open- may be partially, will help you assess situation outside. If a pleasant air suddenly becomes dusty, then it is an indication of bad roads ahead. May be there's a diversion, may be road is muddy/bad. Open window also makes you more alert to outside events- horns, animal sounds, other vehicles screeching to halt etc. When you drive with all windows closed, you'll be oblivious to the developments outside and will have very less reaction time.

Wishing you safe journey.

Also read: Safe driving tips from DSFL * Ford Driving Skills for Life * Fuel saving tips from first gear *

6 comments:

D.Nambiar said...

Very useful post, Shrinidhi. Great tips

Desi Traveler said...

If I have to choose one point it will be point no 1..better to go low beam and one blind driver is better than 2 blind drivers...It also summarizes the importance of proactive safe driving... good post...

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Nambiar and DT

Sumeet Mukherjee said...

I liked a few points, although will be honest in saying that I only partially agree with all. But nevertheless, nice compilation.

satish said...

Very nice tips.well written. But let me be honest I will never venture to drive in night on Indian roads.

HD Night Vision said...

Best of all; make sure you are in good health and driving condition for night time driving. Thanks for sharing.

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