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Dip not dazzle
Your first rule when driving at night is make sure you can stop well within the distance your headlights show to be clear. Bear in mind that a standard set of headlights will provide about 30 metres of visibility when dipped and 100 metres when on full beam. Remember, you should always keep your lights dipped in lit or urban areas. You can use full beam if you’re on a straight unlit road, but when you see another vehicle approaching be considerate and turn your headlights to dip a second after they are able to see you. This shows them that you have gone on to dip, and may remind them to do the same. You should then slow down, as the distance you can see to be clear will be reduced. If no other traffic is approaching, return to full beam once the vehicle has passed you. When driving around corners and over brows, dip early before you encounter and dazzle an on-coming driver.
Eye of the driver
Driving at night is a skill that needs to be learnt. As a learner, you’re not required to have lessons in driving at night, but for safety’s sake take some when it’s dark. One of the biggest night-time hazards is dazzle from on-coming headlights. Although the Highway Code says, you ‘must not use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders,’ you will notice that some drivers ignore this rule and keep their lights on full beam when they should be dipped. For new drivers, this can be disorientating especially on busy unlit roads. To avoid being dazzled, never look directly at oncoming lights, instead focus your gaze slightly to the left-hand side or painted edge line of the road to stay on course. Try to anticipate when oncoming headlights may reduce your vision and be ready to slow down. You can also be dazzled from behind from light reflected in your interior mirror. To avoid this most cars now have an anti-dazzle setting on the mirror which you can switch to. Remember, your break lights can also dazzle the car behind you so apply your handbrake and don’t keep your foot on the brake pedal if you’re waiting at a junction or queuing in traffic, unless you’re in fog.
Brake lights dazzle
The Highway Code is clear on the use of brake lights. When stopped in a queue or at traffic lights, you should put your car in neutral, engage your handbrake and then take your foot off the brake pedal until the traffic moves again. As long as your foot is on the pedal, the brake lights are lit – dazzling the cars behind you. According to the AA more than a quarter of drivers admit to keeping their foot on the brake when stationary in a queue of traffic and with modern brake lights, particularly high-mounted central brake lights, this is highly distracting. Common sense suggests there are times when brake lights are useful. For example, if you are stopped on a rural road at temporary traffic lights, but the moment a car stops behind you be legal, courteous and kind.
There is a good reason why you should not park on the wrong side of the road at night. This is not because you have to drive on the opposite side of the road to enter and leave the space, but because of the risk of dazzling. You’ll dazzle other drivers with your headlights as you park and leave, and your rear light reflectors will not be visible once you’ve left the car. This is a driving offence under rule 248 of the Highway Code and can receive a Penalty Charge Notice.
Brake lights in a queue
The Highway Code is clear, you must not use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users. Yet, a recent AA survey found that more than a quarter of drivers admit to keeping their foot on the brake when stationary in a queue of traffic – 17 per cent put the transmission in neutral but keep their foot on the brake, and 15 per cent keep the car in gear and their foot on the brake.
Modern brake lights, particularly high-mounted central brake lights can be dazzling for the driver behind in a queue. The Highway Code addresses this issue and says in stationary queues of traffic, you should apply the parking brake and, once the following traffic has stopped, take your foot off the footbrake to deactivate the brake lights and minimise glare to road users behind until the traffic moves again.