This may well be the scariest photo you will ever see. If you look very carefully, you'll see there's a pedestrian right in the middle of the frame and, even at 48km/h (the posted speed limit) she may already be too close to avoid.

Johannesburg - More than half of all road crashes happen at night, even though traffic density is far higher during the day, according to statistics from the Road Transport Management Corporation.

The blunt fact is that driving at night is dangerous, mostly because driving is a largely visual activity and none of us can see as well at night as we do in sunlight, despite the best efforts of carmakers to replicate daylight - and if they could, oncoming drivers would be as effectively blinded as if they were looking straight into the sun.

So, there is an essential compromise at work here, and we have to learn to adapt our driving techniques accordingly

Here are the Automobile Association's tips for safer night driving:

Get your eyes checked: If you think you have problems seeing at night, see an optometrist. Be honest with yourself: if you need glasses to watch TV, wear them whenever you drive, especially in low-light conditions. Don't let vanity outweigh safety - it's not worth it.

Plan your route: Know exactly where you're going, so that you don't have to battle to read unlit roads signs while driving. Stick to well-lit roads if you can, even if it means a slightly longer drive.

Check your car's lights: That includes headlights, tail-lights and brake lights. On your own? No problem, point your car at a wall and switch on the lights (remember to check the high as well as dipped beams). Then reverse up to within a couple of metres of the wall - the red glow (or lack of it!) will instantly confirm whether your tail and brake lights are working.

Check your trailer's lights: Other drivers battle as much as you do to see at night, so back your trailer up to the wall and check all its lights before some dimwit parks his car in your trailer.

Keep your glass clean: Glare from streaks and dirt on your car's windshield and rear window shows up more - and impedes your vision more - under artificial lighting. So do scratches; an older car that may be safe during daylight hours can be practically undriveable at night.

Check your demister: The air is cooler at night, so there's more tendency for the moisture you breathe out to condense on the windows.

Switch on before sunset: The African sky gets dark much quicker than you think, unlike the long twilight of Europe. And leave your lights on after the sun comes up; the morning sun throws long shadows, and other early-bird drivers are yawning just as hard as you are.

Don’t blind other drivers: Dip your headlights well before an oncoming car is within range, or if you come up behind a slow-moving vehicle. If the approaching driver doesn't respond, flash him and dip your headlights again. Don't retaliate by keeping your high beam on: two blinded drivers instead of one just doubles the danger.

Maintain a safe following distance: Because it's difficult to judge distance in poor light, you may have less time in which to react if the driver in front of you suddenly slows down. You don't want to be the dimwit that parks in his trailer...

Don't drive faster than you can see: You need to able to stop within the range of your headlights. It may sound obvious, but if the range of your headlights is 80 metres and you drive on an unlit road at a speed that requires more than that to stop, you may never know what hit you.

Don't stare fixedly at the limits of your headlights' range: This can cause eye fatigue or excessive blinking. Glance up at your mirror and across to the side of the road as would in daylight, to keep the muscles of your cornea working.

Allow room for other people's errors: Many drivers, especially inexperienced ones, are intimidated by driving at night and may appear to drive very hesitantly.

If you have to drive at night, make sure you are well rested: When you're tired your reflexes slow down and your distance judgment becomes unreliable. Sound familiar? Those are also the symptoms of driving drunk - and it's just as dangerous.

Now here's a surprise:

The results of a recent study by the Automobile Association of America suggest that halogen headlights, standard in four out of five cars on the road today, may be ineffective on unlit roads at speeds as low as 64km/h.

The AAA noted: “The testing measured the distances at which modern headlights illuminate non-reflective objects on both low and high-beam settings. 

"These findings indicate that when travelling on unlit roads, today’s headlights fail to light the full distance necessary for a driver to detect an object or obstacle in the road, react, and stop in time."

IOL Motoring

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