Is Night Driving As Dangerous As Drunk Driving?
Researchers in a number of studies have recently found that night driving, in particular driving while fatigued, can be as dangerous as driving after consuming alcohol. Much of the research has focused on the affects that driving for a prolonged period in darkness can have where the driver has to be more aware of changing conditions due to reduced visibility. While it was expected that there would be some effect on driver responsiveness, the extent of that effect has surprised many.
In one study, a team made up from Utrecht University in the Netherlands and Université Bordeaux II in France discovered that two continuous hours of night driving results in the same amount of weaving as consuming two average alcoholic beverages. One hour more of continuous driving double the effects. The research team was led by Joris Verster, PhD, a psychopharmacologist from Utrecht University. The subjects were tested by having them drive several hours at night while measuring their ability to maintain a steady speed and stay within their lane.
Other studies in Australia and New Zealand also found that sleep deprivation can have the same effect as driving while drunk, though this study focused more on drivers who have been awake long periods of time. Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales went so far as to recommend that newly licensed drivers be banned from driving at night, claiming this could save at least 200 lives a year in the United Kingdom while reducing the number of serious injuries by 1700. Clearly many people believe that night driving and driving while fatigues is a serious problem.
One point of concern is that law enforcement officers do not have a way to monitor how tired a driver is beyond simple observation. And what the law enforcement officer sees once a car is pulled over is not necessarily representative of what the situation was before stopping the driver. Typically, when the average motorist is pulled over, adrenaline will give the driver a boost which will negate the effects of fatigue temporarily. This will make the driver appear wide awake. At least for awhile. But once the encounter with the officer is over, the adrenaline rush ends and the driver will return quickly to a fatigued state.
There have been calls in some areas for regulation regarding driving while tired or for long periods at night, but so far no one has managed to formulate a reasonable plan for how such laws could even be enforced if put into place. With no reliable way to determine how long a driver has been on the road nor any way to establish how tired that driver may actually be, it is unlikely that any government will pass any legislation restricting night time beyond laws that are already on the books. Those laws usually do allow officers to make judgment calls in extreme cases under general regulations regarding reckless driving. But other than that, for now the citizens are on their own.
But not everyone necessarily agrees that driving at night is more dangerous than driving during the day. And in fact, some see distinct advantages to night driving including less traffic and quicker rest stops.While obstacles may pop up unexpectedly, many feel that using extra caution and being sure to only drive at night when alert and rested make the question of night or day moot. They feel that it is driving while tired that causes the problem and that driving at night does not necessarily cause drowsiness. While researchers seem to disagree, there is no indication that any of the research done has included drivers who feel they drive as well or better in darkness.
To be certain, this is an area that probably needs more research before definitive answers can be given. In the meantime, we should all try to use caution anytime there may be impairments to out driving or to other drivers. Obviously we should never drink and drive, but we should also avoid driving when we are tired or sleepy. No matter how important it is to get somewhere, it is never more important than our lives or the lives of those we encounter. So be sure next time you get behind the wheel that you are ready, willing and completely able to take on the responsibility that comes with operating an automobile on a public road.
Tips for Driving at Night
- Be sure to get plenty of rest before beginning travel.
- Make frequent stops to rest and avoid fatigue.
- Be sure that all lights are functioning properly so that you are visible to others.
- Maintain a safe speed keeping the limited visibility in mind.
- Avoid sudden stops by reducing speed and watching the road ahead.
- Be sure mirrors and windshields are clean to maximize visibility.
- Use low beam headlights when approaching other vehicles, but use high beam headlights when on open road where deer or other animals may be active.