PHOTO AP/MIDDLETOWN JOURNAL, NICK GRAHAM
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According to the National Safety Council, traffic death rates are three times higher at night than in the day. Factor in the high speeds that come with responding to law enforcement emergencies, and police driving at night should be considered a high-risk activity.
Dusk and dawn are the most dangerous time periods because adapting to the lighting change is challenging. Ninety percent of a driver’s reaction depends on vision, and as it becomes completely dark, color recognition and depth perception is limited. Further, vision is significantly narrowed to the view illuminated by the headlights. Peripheral vision is decreased, and highway speeds will easily overdrive your vision in front of the vehicle.
Even though these issues affect law enforcement, we still must perform our duties effectively and efficiently while using the safest means possible during night driving.
When driving and turning the vehicle, drivers tend to follow their headlights, which should be aimed correctly to gain the maximum visual distance in front of the vehicle. Officers should scan the areas to each side of the headlights and look beyond them, especially while turning. Headlights should be turned on at dusk to allow drivers to see (and be seen) better.
As much as half of the headlights’ total illumination can be absorbed by dirt or grime on the surface of the glass. Keep your headlights, signal lights and taillights clean. And whether it’s day or night, a clean windshield is vital. Streaks and smears can blind the driver and create disorienting effects when light shines on it.
The dangers of speed become even more critical at night. At best, high-beam headlights will give a view 300 feet ahead, and low beams 200 feet. At 60 mph, you have just barely two seconds of vision ahead of you with low beams and a little more than three seconds using high beams. Overdriving your headlights becomes a real possibility if you don’t slow down accordingly at night. Due to the limited vision, the following- distance to the cars in front of you should increase to at least three seconds.
Blinding glare from other vehicles can be one of the most dangerous aspects of night driving. Research has shown that when you look at the headlights from another car, you simply can’t see for 1–2 seconds. Don’t look straight into oncoming headlights. Direct your eyes to the right side of the road while facing oncoming traffic to assist with this.
For law enforcement, driving at night is a necessity. Although it is more dangerous, you can take steps to lessen the risk associated with it. Awareness and knowledge is the key, and hopefully the key will turn into action.