How to Use Your Headlights This Winter
Photo via iStock.
It’s probably not surprising, but traffic deaths are three times greater at night than they are during the day, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). With daylight saving time over, the days are getting shorter and the night is getting darker earlier. The need to properly adjust and care for headlights is crucial.
But, fleets shouldn’t just wait for this time of year to ensure headlights are working properly and drivers are using their headlights correctly. Inclement weather — including rainy, foggy, and snowy conditions — also limits available light and visibility.
Headlights, no matter the time of day or driving conditions, can be crucial to driving safely.
“There are two keys when driving in low light. You want to see and be seen,” said William Van Tassel, Ph.D., manager of driver training operations for AAA. “It is absolutely a good idea to turn headlights on anytime you’re driving to be seen. You’re about twice as visible to other drivers, which can really make a difference. Turn a vehicle’s headlights on as soon as you start the car and keep them on.”
Charting a Night on the Town
Headlights, taillights, signal lights, and windows should be cleaned regularly (at least once per week) or more often if necessary.
Headlights should also be properly aimed. Mis-aimed headlights can blind oncoming drivers and make it more difficult to see the road, according to the NSC.
There are a few tips to using headlights at night or dusk.
“You want to make sure that you’re not overdriving your headlights,” Van Tassel said. “You should be able to stop the distance you can see. If you’re driving too fast, you might not be able to stop as soon as you see something in your headlights.”
Particularly when following another vehicle, fleet drivers should rely on their low beams, so they don’t blind the driver in the vehicle ahead of them. In situations where fleet drivers encounter an oncoming vehicle using their high beams, they should watch the right edge of the road as a steering guide to help minimize glare.
Fleet drivers should observe nighttime headlight strategies as soon as the sun goes down. Twilight is among the most difficult times to drive, because drivers’ eyes are constantly changing to adapt to the growing darkness, according to the NSC.
Running lights have become more common on today’s vehicles, but should they be relied on?
“Having the headlights on are much better,” Van Tassel said. “There’s more illumination being projected to other drivers with the headlights, so if it were me, I would still turn on the headlights.”
Combatting Rain, Snow & Fog
While the sun may technically be high in the sky on a rainy, snowy, or foggy day, cloud cover is probably minimizing the number of rays getting through. Adding precipitation of any kind will also diffuse available light to see the road and other vehicles and pedestrians.
It is currently the law in every state that headlights be turned on when visibility is low, such as when it’s raining. Some states also require headlights to be turned on when wipers are in use.
Before heading out in snowy weather, drivers should make sure that headlights, taillights, and windows are clear of snow.
Special care must be observed when using headlights in foggy conditions. Drivers should not use their high beams when driving in fog because light will reflect off the water particles in the cloud vapor that makes up the fog, making it harder to see.
Instead, instruct drivers to use their regular, low-beam headlights or fog lights, if the vehicle is equipped with the latter.
With snow and rain, the rule is a little more elastic.
“The human eye is pretty good at registering changes in light,” Van Tassel observed. “So, if you’re having a lot of light reflected back to you, that may not be a good thing. You want the light extending out, not working back into your eye. In these situations, you should test it both with the high and low beams.”
Video Tip: Driving at Dusk and Night
Video: The Safety Benefits of Adaptive Headlights