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Can you see well enough for modern night driving?

December 2019

Driving at night
Lights are brighter than ever before

As we visit the shops and attend special events and travel to see relations and distribute gifts, at this time of year we often find we are having to do more night driving than normal.

Many of us have been driving for so many years that we assume there will be no problems and we will just take to the road as normal.

But things have been changing steadily in recent years and as we age, it can be difficult to adapt readily to the new conditions.

Headlights are a case in point. For some drivers, while they have never had problems before, suddenly they may find they are being blinded by the powerful lights of oncoming vehicles.

This is understandable. In recent years the motor industry has taken great pride in improving lighting performance. We have seen halogen and xenon lights replacing the traditional bulb system in cars and then LED lights (light emitting diodes) became the latest for modern cars. This is because they use less power than Xenon units, they are compact and the light produced is a very bright blue white light. They are also more directional, meaning that an LED light is more focused than other lights.

Even more modern lighting is now being developed for cars including LED matrix lights and laser lights.

Government guidelines say all vehicle lights need to be sufficiently bright to illuminate the road ahead while also limiting the likelihood of affecting the vision of other road users.

However, this is beginning to become a disputed point as an increasing number of drivers are complaining about being distracted and even blinded by the intensity and brightness of some of the newer car headlights.

Our eyes may be excellent in daytime, but human eyes aren’t great for night time vision, losing depth perception, peripheral vision and the ability to distinguish colour. A bright light that blinds you for even a second can be fatal when driving a car.

There can also be a problem from being dazzled in the rear view mirrors by cars immediately behind with bright lights.

Other new features we didn’t have to contend with years ago are the new bright lights on bicycles. These high performance lights means we can spot a cyclist easily at night which is a good thing, but the bad thing is that the light beam can be in the direct eyeline of a driver, again causing sudden dazzle.

Finally, as we age our vision may be starting to deteriorate anyway; still good enough for normal driving but no longer sufficient for these more tricky conditions.

If you are having vision problems when driving at night, the first thing is to visit your optician. He or she will be able to do specific checks and advise you on your specific situation. There may be some hidden causes that you haven’t thought of.

For instance, you might be suffering from night myopia. Myopia is the official term for short sight, when you can see near objects clearly but distant objects become blurred. Recent research has shown that, in very low light levels, there can be cases of people with normally perfect vision becoming temporarily myopic.

Another problem is that in dark conditions, the pupil of the eye may become larger, and this can accentuate any existing small errors in focussing that may not have been picked up before.

Early cataracts can sometimes be the cause problems when driving at night, symptoms that aren’t strong enough to be noticed in normal daylight. Or your optician may identify a focussing problem.
As we age, our ability to focus quickly may diminish. Below the age of about 45, most people can adjust the focus of their eyes between long and short distances at will. However, as we get older, in dark conditions this ability can break down and the focus of our eyes can settle to a constant distance. This can make it challenging when driving because of the constantly changing viewpoints needed.

If you have an eye defects, then your optician can advise you on the best way forward.

Simple things that can help people drive at night include special night driving glasses. These clear coated glasses have a special coating on the lenses which absorbs ultra violet light and helps prevent glare when driving at night. They must have clear lenses though. The special amber tinted night glasses that are often advertised are not generally recommended and they can actually make vision worse. The blue night driving lights advertised for use within a car to help cause the eye pupil to contract are also not recommended as they may reduce glare but they also make it harder to see the road ahead.

Of course keeping a clean windscreen is important but it is especially important at night as any dirt can cause light to refract, making it harder to see where you are going. Also dimming the instrument panel and dash lights in your car can be useful to reduce distraction and allow your eyes to adjust as best they can to the darkness ahead.

If you have any concern about driving at night, visit your optician quickly to have your eyes checked and get the best advice. Especially at this dark and busy time of year, night drivers need to have excellent vision to keep themselves and their passengers safe.

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