Safe Driving at Sunrise and Sunset / Dusk and Dawn

Introduction

We strive to keep road users safe 24/7. Our drivers, bikers, cyclists and pedestrians are challenged daily by other road users, traffic, road and even weather conditions.  

We share information on safe driving techniques in bad weather, snow, rain, mist but should not neglect to recognize that even in perfect weather there may be rather unique challenges brought about by the time of travel!

It is not only during the dark of night that driving becomes more dangerous but also when driving at sunrise and sunset / dusk and dawn.

Rarely will visibility be absolutely perfect while driving, but if motorists are aware of this and make the proper adjustments, they can minimize any additional risks coming with less-than-optimal visual conditions.

Why is driving at Sunrise and Sunset an Increased Risk to Safety?

  • At sunrise and before sunset the sun can shine directly into drivers’ eyes, leaving many motorists driving with a glare.
  • This leaves the driver’s view compromised making it much harder to see the road ahead and identify potential hazards.
  • At dusk / sunset your eyes must adapt to the changing level of brightness and it becomes more difficult to recognise threats to safety.
  • Although the sky mat still be light, the road will be darker with deep shadows and there is less contrast in colours (eg the colour of oncoming cars).
  • It will leave the driver closer to any hazard and leave a much reduced stopping distance.
  • Visibility is particularly poor at dusk and dawn because natural light is reduced and it isn’t dark enough for your headlights to be 100% effective.
  • Driving at these times is often associated with tiredness among drivers who have driven through the night or are returning from a hard day of work.
  • Exhaustion severely affects focus and reaction time, so it is advisable to keep driving to a minimum in these circumstances.
  • It is especially dangerous for the elderly drivers experiencing natural, age-related changes in vision.

Vulnerable Road Users

Not only drivers of motor vehicles and trucks share the roads at sunset and sunrise. It is important to recognize that many other more vulnerable road users may be sharing the roads at these times.

  • Be very alert to the pedestrian heading to and from work and especially the child pedestrian.
  • Many runners / joggers use the roads at these times for a training run. It is important for them to run / jog on the side of the road heading towards oncoming vehicles and to increase their visibility to others through reflective and high visibility clothing.
  • Cyclists also most often do their training rides at this time when it is not so warm. They need to follow the rules of the road and drive on the left side of the road.
  • They may be especially vulnerable when heading towards the direction of the rising and setting sun when passed by faster moving vehicles and drivers with reduced visibility.
  • As drivers tend to focus on driving more to the side of the road in reduced visibility it significantly increases the risk to cyclists.
  • Most crashes into cyclists occur on weekday afternoons and the risk of cycle accidents is 4-5 times greater in darkness than in daylight.
  • Cycling with a front and rear light will make you more visible, especially in the early morning or evening. Use a flashing red light at the rear and a solid beam white light at the front.
  • Cyclists need to remain very attentive to driving as close to the side of the road as possible and remain in single file.
  • Drivers in rural areas need to remain attentive to the presence of livestock and wildlife, particularly around and after sunset.

Safe Driving Techniques when driving at Sunrise and Sunset

Preparedness of the Driver

An informed road user is a safer road user. We would like drivers to be alert of risks, to be well prepared and able to make the necessary adjustments when required.

  • Think ahead of the planned drive, the potential threats on the road and be ready to adjust the way you drive.
  • Many drivers are able to self-regulate by limiting their driving in low light situations, such as at dusk, dawn or night.
  • Ensure alertness by avoiding driver tiredness, planning your rest stops and avoiding all driver distractions.
  • Be mindful of other drivers, and switch to your low beams if there’s oncoming traffic or if you’re following another vehicle.
  • Have good sunglasses available to you within easy reach.
  • Invest in polarized sunglasses – they can help reduce glare.
  • Avoid wearing tinted sunglasses at night, though they may be helpful during dusk and dawn when the sun is still out.
  • Utilize your sun visor – it can help to block out the sun.
  • Let your eyes adjust – The human eye naturally adjusts to the darkness, but it can take up to 30 minutes for your eyes to adapt to darkness fully and drivers should reduce speed during this transitional time.
  • Be conscious of vision changes. As we age, it is natural to experience vision changes that affect our visibility in low light situations, such as dusk and dawn.
  • A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see comfortably over a 30-year old driver.
  • Limited light can affect depth perception, colour perception, contrast sensitivity and peripheral vision.
  • Get regular check-ups for conditions like macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.

Vehicle Safety and Roadworthiness

A roadworthy vehicle is a life worthy vehicle! Prepare your car before you hit the road and ensure that your car is in its best working condition:

  • To prepare your vehicle for driving at sunrise and sunset / night, dusk and dawn, make sure your lights—headlights, taillights, brake lights and indicators are clean and working effectively!  
  • Clean the outside and inside of the light to ensure clarity.
  • Ensure that your mirrors are clean and properly adjusted.
  • Keep your windows clean and both the outside and the inside of your windshield.
  • Check your windshield for cracks in need of repair or a windshield in need of replacement.
  • Off-gases from the vinyl dashboard will start to coat the inside surface of your windshield with an opaque film that greatly reduces visibility when the sun shines directly on it.
  • Avoid storing papers or other items on the dashboard
  • Don’t forget to have the aim of your headlights inspected to make sure they are aligned properly to best illuminate the road.
  • Cleaning your windshield and windows with newspaper will help remove streaks that compromise your visibility at night.
  • Once your windows are clean, try to avoid touching them or wiping them off with your bare hand, since your skin’s oil can smear and create a glare when light shines in.
  • Rather keep a clean cloth in your glove box ready when your windshield needs cleaning.
  • Your car’s sun visor should be able to be lowered when needed to block the sun.
  • If the lights on your dashboard are on their brightest setting, it may take a toll on your forward visibility. Dim your interior lights so that they are visible, but not distracting. That way, it will be easy for your eyes to adjust to the lights on the road ahead.

Adjust Driving Style

The best way to enhance your safety on the road is to focus on a defensive driving style. We would like to suggest the following:

  • Always reduce your speed to compensate for reduced visibility.
  • Slowing your speed will allow more time and space to respond in an emergency.
  • Slowing your speed slightly is one of the best ways to avoid head-on collisions, especially at night when your vision distance is limited by your headlights.
  • Increase your following distance from the vehicle ahead of you - when the sun is in your eyes it can be hard to see what the vehicle ahead is doing.
  • Be especially cautious when driving in areas of pedestrian activity.
  • Keep an eye on your rear view mirrors for any vehicles rapidly closing in from behind.
  • Look farther up the road and stay focused on your driving so you can know ahead of time when you may be turning to face directly into the sun
  • Use lane markings as a guide when sun glare is reducing visibility.
  • Avoid staring directly at the sun or the headlights from oncoming traffic and other bright lights out on the road.
  • If you’re blinded by oncoming traffic, look toward the left edge of the road and steer along its path until you can see clearly again.
  • Golden Rule: If you cannot see- You should NOT drive!
  • Be prepared to pull off the road in a safe place if you still can’t see but do not stop on the travelled portion of the road.
  • The sun will rise high enough or sink low enough in a few minutes to allow safer driving. Remain patient.
  • Drive with your headlights on to increase your visibility to other drivers – Avoid high beams to prevent blinding oncoming traffic.
  • Your tail lights will also be important to make you more visible to the drivers behind you.
  • Remain alert to the other dangers associated with driving at sunset and sunrise / dusk and dawn – such as driver tiredness!
  • You are far more likely get tired behind the wheel when driving at dusk, dawn or night. If you’re feeling drowsy behind the wheel, make frequent stops to get some fresh air and safely walk around.

Conclusion

Safe driving is thoughtful driving and adjusting driving to the prevailing conditions. With the above suggestions we should be able to share roads responsibly with other road users!

Also view:

Safe Driving in Bad Weather Conditions

Defensive Driving

Safe Driving at Night

Eye Protection and Road Safety

Running / jogging and Road Safety

Cycling Safety for South African Conditions

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