Growing Older And Driving In The Dark

The average 50-year-old driver needs twice as much light to see at night as a 30-year-old driver. Yet few of us do what is necessary to compensate for the reduction in night-time acuity that occurs in the aging eye.

As we age, changes in driving habits are crucial, and so are adjustments at home to prevent the all-too-common accidents that land older people in the hospital.

Traffic deaths are three times greater after dark than during the day, though only 20 percent of driving is done after dark. Fatigue and alcohol are two important causes, but experts say the biggest factor is darkness. Ninety percent of a driver’s reaction depends on vision and, unlike cats, we’re just not engineered to see well in the dark.

The National Safety Council suggests this to improve vision when driving at night, however old you are:

* The No. 1 suggestion is to protect your eyes during the day by wearing sunglasses (neutral-gray lenses are best) and a hat with a brim when the sun is shining. Bright sunlight lengthens the time it takes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. While it normally takes half an hour for full adaptation to the dark, being in bright sunlight for two or three hours can delay this adaptation by hours. In other words, the longer you stay in the sun, the worse your night vision gets.

* Clean the windshield of your car, inside and out, at least weekly. As with a cloudy lens, a dirty windshield scatters light and intensifies glare. (If you haven’t cleaned the inside of your windshield in a while, you will be stunned by the grime you wipe off!)

* Wash the headlights tool; just a little grime can reduce the light they cast by about 90 percent, which in turn reduces how well a driver can see. Make sure the headlights are properly aligned.

* Most new cars these days have rear-view mirrors that adjust automatically at night to eliminate the reflected glare of headlights behind you. If not, make sure to adjust the mirror manually to night setting. But keep in mind that this makes the car behind you appear farther away than it really is.

* Make sure your glasses are clean. Dirty glasses, like a dirty windshield, scatter light. When getting new glasses, make sure the lens have an antireflective coating. (Even if you legally don’t need glasses, some ophthalmologists suggest wearing them, especially when driving at night, to enhance distance vision.

* Avoid looking directly at approaching vehicles at night, even when their lights are dimmed. Instead, direct your eyes about 20 degrees to the right, toward the white line on the right side of the road, and use your peripheral vision to see ahead for those few moments.

* Reduce your speed at night and increase the distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you. You should be able to stop inside the area illuminated by your headlights. If you overdrive your headlights, you create a blind crash area in front of your vehicle.

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