How do I become a better night-time driver?
December 2, 2014 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I HATE driving at night. Oncoming moving headlights bother my eyes, and I feel less confident in my depth perception. How do I get better at it?

Most of the year, I can avoid doing much night driving. But now it's dark at 4:30 and I don't have a choice. The stress of the evening commute is definitely wearing on me.

My biggest problem is oncoming headlights - they're bright and moving fast. It's better if I drive in the right lane, which I do wherever possible, and not terrible if there's an empty center lane or something. More ambient light (like from streetlights) also seems to help. But in a dark area where I'm driving adjacent to oncoming traffic, it's rough. I naturally shy away and I have to focus on staying in my lane.

My next biggest problem is depth perception. It's hard for me to change lanes at night because I have a harder time gauging distance to the car I want to merge in front of, plus my eyes seem to take a longer than usual time to refocus going between the mirror and the road. This is exacerbated because I lack confidence about the lane change and thus recheck the mirror several times.

Finally, rain is terrible. Then all the lights reflect off everything and it's really hard for my eyes and brain to process it.

In case it's relevant, I wear glasses.

I am going to be commuting in the dark for the next few months. Please help me be better at it and hopefully less stressed.
posted by telepanda to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I know this sounds counterproductive, but have you tried wearing lightly tinted sunglasses? My husband has the same problem, especially with the oncoming headlights, and he swears that wearing sunglasses helps.
posted by something something at 11:40 AM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Certain eye diseases can exacerbate difficulty seeing at night. If you haven't had one recently, perhaps you might consider an eye checkup as well?
posted by palionex at 11:45 AM on December 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have this issue too, including being less confident about lane changes. I'll be watching the comments with interest because I don't remember it being a problem in my earlier driving years. The one thing that I do is make sure that my windshield is very clean, inside and out, which cuts down on some of the glare.
posted by geegollygosh at 11:45 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Two simple tips:

1/ Your windshield and all the other windows should be perfectly clean, to reduce glare and improve visibility of oncoming cars as well as the other cars all around you (e.g. for changing lanes).

2/ To avoid being blinded by oncoming lights, watch the white line at the side of the road, instead of looking straight ahead, for a moment when a car is approaching. This will keep you going in the right direction, while keeping your eyes off the bright oncoming headlights.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:45 AM on December 2, 2014 [14 favorites]

Seconding getting an eye checkup. I know several people who have night vision/glare issues that were helped by wearing different glasses at night.
posted by fermezporte at 11:47 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cleaning the windshield really helps. Not just the outside, but the inside too, if you haven't done it recently. You don't get huge dirt on the inside, but instead you get a nasty film/fog (plastic outgassing, maybe? I've never been clear what it's from) that you really only ever notice when looking at bright point sources.

Headlights and streetlights will be subjectively 'smaller' through a clean windshield and will hurt your eyes less.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:47 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I also hate driving at night. My cousin mentioned that she got lightly tinted glasses for night driving and it really helped.
posted by radioamy at 11:48 AM on December 2, 2014

Response by poster: It's perhaps worth adding that the roads I'm driving on are heavily traveled surface roads, and there is a near-constant stream of oncoming traffic. So I've had difficulty with looking away, because "for a moment" isn't long enough. Also, this is typically 4 lane road (I'm in the left lane because I'll be turning soon and don't want to wait til the last second to change lanes) and unfortunately the white dotted line is dingy and difficult to focus on.

Speaking of which, that stretch of road is on a hill, and somehow being on an incline makes it that much worse...

I have contemplated yellow-tinted glasses as I've also read they can help, and would love to hear from anyone with personal experience. I wear Cocoons for my regular driving sunglasses and they have some that would work for night driving.
posted by telepanda at 11:53 AM on December 2, 2014

You want "shooting glasses". These are yellow tinted sun glasses used by gun owners. They really help to reduce glare, soften bright lights, and to make things sharper. Some places, like Amazon, has even re-packaged these as "night driving glasses."
posted by Flood at 11:53 AM on December 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you have the scratch, I would check out local driving schools especially if they offer other than training for new drivers. I get that the night glare is a thing - it is for me as well, but part of what you're describing sounds like confidence about driving in general.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:54 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

my husband frequently complained about driving at night, something I don't have trouble with. He recently got an eye exam (had gone nearly 4 years since LASIK) and discovered his prescription had shifted slightly from 20/20 to ~20/30 and he does now need glasses to drive at night.

added to which, specifically using glasses that are gradient tinted (so darker at the top, shading to clear below) has dramatically helped him with glare issues.

not to mention we recently had to replace the windshield in our ten year old car and the difference it has made in nighttime glare is dramatic. It's not just the dirt/haze problem, but those little microscopic chips ("sand spray") that cause problems.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:56 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

A new windshield if your car has any miles on it makes a huge difference, as lonefrontranger notes. The pitting you don't notice during the day has a marked effect at night.

Take a look at your headlights, too. I had mine buffed a couple of years ago and it made not much of a difference, so this fall out came the old lights and in went a new set (2002 car, it was time). We are all much happier.

Also, if you don't already, watch the outside edge stripe, not the oncoming cars.
posted by xaryts at 12:12 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get an eye exam. Don't drive around at night with no depth perception, jhc. Go and get glasses and stop being a danger!
posted by fshgrl at 12:29 PM on December 2, 2014

I'd definitely see an eye doctor for a check up and mention your difficulty driving. A good eye doctor should have some solutions for you. I had trouble driving at night and it turned out I needed eyeglasses.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:33 PM on December 2, 2014

Just chiming in to say that your question reminded me that I had been similarly bothered by glare while driving at night a few years back --- but it now occurs to me that the problem seems to have gone away when I got my prescription updated, and I haven't been irritated by driving at night in ages. Granted, I'm no longer a daily car commuter as I was then, but still, on the occasion I have driven at night no problems.
posted by Diablevert at 12:44 PM on December 2, 2014

Hey, are you me? So I only learned to drive a few years ago, well into adulthood. I always thought of myself as having great vision -- corroborated by optometrists -- but the nighttime glare from oncoming headlights disturbs me. I had my vision checked and my optometrist tweaked my prescription a touch, and overall my eye health checked out fine. The glasses don't help with the glare and my windshield is clean. My night vision is great when headlights aren't around. Maybe some of us just have better reflexes to turn away from eye searing bright light and thus overcoming the reflex makes night driving harder than it has to be. (Though, when you think about it, why should it be normal and comfortable to have bright lights coming at you over and over?)

My hack is to just not drive as much at night, but I realize that may not be practical for whatever reason.
posted by stowaway at 12:57 PM on December 2, 2014

My solution to this problem was a new pair of glasses with the anti-glare coating.

People with astigmatism are particularly sensitive to bright lights and glare. Ponying up extra money for the anti-glare coating made all the difference in the world for me (as well as the updated prescription). Night driving went from stressful/survival mode-inducing to as confident and comfortable as day-time driving.
posted by blueberrypuffin at 1:08 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe I am just an idiot, but I drove around with the left headlight out for a while before I realized it was not some ocular failing. I think it went out slowly. I felt blind if a car came at me.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:15 PM on December 2, 2014

From what I've read, the consensus among ophthamologists is that tinted glasses of WHATEVER color decrease your ability to see at night, and therefore the 'driving glasses' marketing is snake oil. If snake oil were pernicious, which snake oil probably is.

(My personal, completely uninformed suspicion is that actually yellow-tinted glasses do help, and here's why. The vision experiments may have been testing whether people can see more -- and the answer is no, you can see less. But a bicyclist once let me look at a road through some fancy Italian yellow glasses he'd bought at CostCo, and I was astonished at how the road's texture leaped right out at me. So perhaps yellow glasses guide people to perceive the specific kinds of cues you need to help your brain process night driving. So runs my blissfully ignorant theory.)

Just a heads-up on what you might expect in that part of a conversation with your eye doctor.

Opticians, of course, will make glasses in any color you want, as they should, and adjust the degree of tint depending on whether you plan to wear them to drive, as they also should.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:21 PM on December 2, 2014

One of my friends spent good money on better headlights (white LED? something like that) and she said night time driving has become a lot easier due to better visibility.
posted by xtine at 1:23 PM on December 2, 2014

Not sure if this is different from others are saying, but it makes a big difference for me (no glasses, good vision) if I just don't focus on the oncoming lights. I don't look away so much as keep my gaze in the center of my lane, or maybe a touch right of center. This can be hard sometimes, especially on curves, b/c "argh! something bright and blinding coming right at me! I must look directly at it to make sure I don't hit it!". But it makes a big difference. Not sure, but it also might involve how far ahead you're focusing on the road as well, I'm thinking focusing a shorter distance out might involve less blinding.

As a side rant, I think it's much worse since so many cars have these horribly bright glaring headlights now. Maybe I'm just getting old, but the "normal" brightness now seems more like what having ones "brights" on was like 20 years ago. Ah, age...
posted by pennypiper at 1:40 PM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you try sunglasses, make sure they're polarized. Those do amazing things for cutting down the sorts of glare and reflections that are characteristic of oncoming headlights. Just tinted: not so much.
posted by straw at 1:52 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I remember my driver's ed handbook explicitly recommending against sunglasses for this purpose. It did suggest focusing your gaze slightly to the side (at the painted lane line if it's present), as someone else suggested above -- it puts the oncoming light a bit in your periphery without making you look away from the road entirely.
posted by dorque at 1:57 PM on December 2, 2014

I'm seconding the suggestion to consider replacing your windshield. My comfort with night driving improved VASTLY after mine was replaced. They just get roughed up.
posted by mskyle at 2:36 PM on December 2, 2014

Another vote for the "see the eye doctor" crowd.

In my case, my night driving problems turned out to be caused by rapid-onset cataracts ("but doctor, I'm only 53!" -- these can happen at any age). One 15 minute surgery later and now I have a plastic lens in my eye with great distance vision.
posted by elmay at 2:36 PM on December 2, 2014

All glass needs to be clean:
* The windshield, clean it inside & out
* get a microfiber towel to keep inside your car to wipe down the inside of the windshield every week or two to clean any film that builds up.
* clean your glasses, and keep them clean. a small microfiber cloth you carry with you works wonders. if they're scratched, you need replacement lenses, the scratches will reflect light and distract you.
* new windshield wipers. if they are streaking, thats going to impair your vision in the rain.
* windshield washer fluid, make sure its full so you can clean your windshield when its not raining.

The idea here is at night the glass & your glasses should be so perfectly clear you can't tell its there. That way theres nothing to cause extra glare.

If your headlights are hazed over, get them polished so they project an appropriate amount of light.

Then you can work on night time driving technique, such as don't look directly at incoming headlights, shield your eyes from lights behind you, and learning to use high beams appropriately.
posted by TheAdamist at 2:41 PM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've been a passenger (a very scared passenger, I might add) in cars where the driver was clearly looking too closely ahead. You should be looking well down the road (like 12 seconds ahead), but a lot of people focus very close in front and so have less time to react and are much more herky-jerky in their driving. Your peripheral vision can handle the close stuff; your attention should be further ahead.

And I very much agree with all of the suggestions to get your eyes checked and to make sure your windshield is clean and replace it if it is pitted or cracked.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:49 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the same issue - when I do have to use roads like yours, I try to look ahead. If I'm drawn like a moth to the lights of the opposing traffic, I try to shift back to the comforting red line of brake lights ahead of me. Or else I'll opportunistically settle in behind a slow car or truck and use them as a buffer. (If I'm feeling extra nervous, I have no issue with just altering my route. It might cost me eight extra minutes but it'll save me x amount of stress.) Thinking about it though, a refresher lesson or two on proper defensive driving techniques at night under different weather conditions might not be a bad idea. And if you're getting your windshield checked, maybe take a look at your brakes and tires (and car in general), just so you can feel more confident in you and your vehicle's ability to handle the scariest things.

If the visibility on that stretch of road and the faint lane markings impact your comfort and sense of safety this much, it might be that others feel the same way - maybe whichever city planning official deals with this could do with hearing about it.

the "normal" brightness now seems more like what having ones "brights" on was like 20 years ago

They definitely feel brighter to me. Also, quite a lot of people have SUVs and other tall vehicles, so their headlights are placed in an inopportune position for drivers of less-tall cars - if you're driving a normal sedan or hatchback, those crazy lights are set to hit you right in the eye.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:35 PM on December 2, 2014

I also get this when driving with glasses on and thus far the only thing that has made a difference is only driving with my contacts in.

They do make a yellow tinted visor thing that flips down from where the regular car sun visor thingy is, I have seen the endless infomercials. That might be something to look into if you don't want the expense of new glasses.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:00 AM on December 3, 2014

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