These risks are even more pronounced during the weekend when fatal crashes peak on Saturday nights. When driving at night, motorists are more likely to be drowsy, and some may have compromised night vision, which can impact depth perception, color recognition, and peripheral vision. In addition, there is a greater incidence of drunk or impaired driving at night compared to daytime hours. Come November 1, when the clocks get moved back an hour for standard time, the days will become even shorter. Motorists can avoid nighttime car accidents by following the rules of the road and using extra caution when driving at night.
Why Am I at a Greater Risk for a Car Accident at Night?
There are several factors that make nighttime driving more dangerous than driving during the day, including the following:
Compromised night vision: A motorist’s ability to see at night can become compromised with age. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), a 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see clearly compared to a 30-year-old driver, and motorists aged 60 and older generally have an even more difficult time driving at night. The AOA offers the following recommendations to older drivers:
- Limit driving to daytime hours, if possible.
- Have eyes checked at least once a year by a qualified optometrist.
- Slow down when driving at night.
- Take a driving refresher course to stay current with the rules of the road.
- Avoid distractions when driving, including talking on the phone, checking a text, and changing the radio station.
- Ask a doctor about side effects associated with prescription medications, including drowsiness.
Increased fatigue: According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 60 percent of adults say that they have driven after too little sleep, and an additional 37 percent say that they have fallen asleep at the wheel. Thirteen percent of the 103 million people who have fallen asleep at the wheel say that it occurs at least once a month, and four percent admit that they caused a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel. The majority of nighttime car accidents occur between midnight and 6:00 a.m.
The National Sleep Foundation urges drivers to keep the following safety tips in mind:
- Get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
- Do not drive after being awake for 16 hours or more.
- Pull over to a safe, well-lit spot and take a nap.
- When driving long hours at night, stop every two hours to rest.
Rush hour: With the days getting shorter and rush hour starting at approximately 4:00 p.m., this is going to be an increasingly dangerous time to drive as winter approaches. In addition to the fact that there are more motorists on the road who are eager to get home after a long day at work, before long, it will be dark outside shortly after 4:00 p.m. Motorists can make it home safety during rush hour by following these tips:
- Slow down and be patient during the commute home.
- Do not weave in and out of lanes.
- Stay alert and aware of other drivers on the road.
- Avoid distractions that takes a driver’s attention off the road.
Impaired driving: Motorists are much more likely to drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol during the evening hours. In addition to drugs and alcohol, certain prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs can cause drivers to be impaired. Most of these accidents can be avoided if motorists avoid driving after drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
What Safety Tips Can Help Me Avoid a Nighttime Driving Accident?
The following tips address some of the specific challenges of driving at night:
Practice defensive driving: Because of the increased rate of drunk driving and drowsy driving at night, motorists are urged to be extra defensive when driving during the nighttime hours. If other drivers appear to be swerving in and out of lanes, are speeding, tailgating, or engaging in other unsafe driving behavior, motorists should put as much space between their car and the other motorist as possible. If the other motorist is endangering the lives of other drivers in the vicinity, the driver should call 911 and report the vehicle.
Keep windshields and headlights clean: If dirt or grime builds up on the windshield, it can reduce visibility. In addition, dirty or damaged headlights can decrease visibility and make it difficult for oncoming vehicles to see other cars. Lights and windshields should be cleaned regularly, and broken headlights should be replaced as soon as possible.
Use high beams when necessary: Although high beams should not be used when following another vehicle, or if a motorist is within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle, they should be used in rural areas, or on open roads when driving at night.
Do not look directly at oncoming headlights. Motorists should always keep their eyes on the road. When another vehicle is approaching, looking straight at the highlights can cause the driver to be blinded by the bright light, particularly if the other motorist has their high beams turned on. Motorists should keep their eyes focused on the right edge of the road or lane marking. Once the other vehicle has passed, the motorist can return their gaze to the road ahead.
Reduce speed: According to the NHTSA, 37 percent of nighttime driving fatalities are caused by speeding. Lower visibility times and shorter reaction times make it difficult to slow down or stop in time to avoid a collision when driving at night. This is particularly true for motorists who are driving on rural two-lane highways with sharp curves and hills.
Watch for pedestrians: When a pedestrian is out walking or running at night, it is highly recommended that he or she wear some type of reflective gear, whether that is a vest, wristbands, or a visor. Carrying a flashlight when walking or running at night is also a good option. Motorists should use extreme caution when driving in residential areas where pedestrians are more likely to be out, particularly because not all pedestrians wear reflective gear.
Look out for deer and other wildlife: Collisions with deer are more common at night from October to January. Hitting a deer can cause significant property damage and serious injuries. To prevent an accident, drivers should try to slow down or stop, rather than swerve to avoid hitting the deer.
Am I Eligible for Compensation if I Was Injured in a Nighttime Car Accident?
Maryland follows the contributory negligence rule, which means that, even if a car accident victim is only one percent responsible for causing the accident, they will be ineligible to collect compensation. However, if the individual injured in the accident can prove that the other driver was at fault, they may collect compensation by filing a claim with their insurance company, filing a claim with the other driver’s insurance company, or filing a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver.
What Damages Am I Eligible to Receive?
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, courts and insurance companies may award economic and non-economic damages to the victim. Economic damages include medical expenses, past and future lost wages, property damage, and other out-of-pocket expenses. There is no cap on economic damage in Maryland. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium. The cap for non-economic damages for 2020 is $875,000.
For an accident victim to be eligible to collect compensation, they must file a lawsuit within three years of the date of the accident. If they do not meet this deadline, the claim will likely be denied. An experienced injury lawyer can assist individuals with the claims process, address all questions and concerns, and ensure that the claim is filed well before the legal deadline.
Risk of Accidents Increase When Driving at Night
Summer is officially over, which means that it is getting darker earlier. With the shorter days and longer nights comes an increased risk for car accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatal car accidents are three times more likely to occur at night compared to during the daytime.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Tolzman
One of Maryland’s “Super Lawyers,” Paul Tolzman received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Loyola University Maryland and earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law. He was admitted to practice before Maryland Courts in 1977. Mr. Tolzman has extensive litigation experience in criminal/DUI defense. In addition, in the personal injury arena, his firm has recovered over $100 million for his clients.
Copyright LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton, P.A.
Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.