The Sun Sets on Driver Visibility

November 7, 2019 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
The Sun Sets on Driver Visibility

As Daylight Savings Ends, Increased Road Dangers Begin

Each November Daylight Savings comes to a close and people around the United States turn their clocks back one hour, thus resulting in shorter days and less sunlight. One common result that most people don't think about, is that we often spend more time driving in the dark. For instance, those traveling home from work each day will likely do so after the sun has set. Consequently, motorists are required to navigate rush hour traffic without the use of the greatest source light … the sun. Instead, motorists traverse our roadways using dim headlights and the moderately lit street lights lining the roadways. Decreased visibility attributable to nighttime driving presents a greater risk for auto accidents and personal injury for drivers and pedestrians alike traveling along the roadways.

It has been estimated that approximately 72 percent of all pedestrian accidents, which result in a serious injury, occur at night and that 78 percent of those take place in an urban area. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there was more than a 3% increase in the number of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes in 2018, totaling a whopping 6,283 deaths – the most deaths since 1990. 

It is no surprise that the ability to identify roadway obstacles, perceive and judge distances, and react to other motorists becomes increasingly difficult at night. Despite your eye's innate ability to adjust to lower light, it is inherently difficult for your eyes to maintain proper function while switching between bright lights and dim roadways encountered while driving at night. Such lights that may cause impaired visibility at night include headlights, street lights, navigation systems, cell phones, and dashboard lighting.

Though you may feel that you are fully capable of driving at night with the assistance of your headlights, visibility is limited to about 500 feet when using high-beams and merely 250 feet when using normal headlights, thus creating less time to react to objects in the roadway when traveling at high speeds. Your ability to identify dark objects and roadway obstacles become drastically more difficult than during the daytime as a result of your eye's inability to quickly adjust after looking into oncoming headlights or other bright light sources.

In addition to your eye's inability to properly adjust to the darker setting, many other factors may be the cause of a motor vehicle accident. According to the National Sleep Foundation, some different kinds of impaired night time driving include:

Why Driving at Night Becomes Harder As We Age

Night vision is the ability to see well in low-light conditions. As we age, we have greater difficulty seeing at night. A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year-old. At age 60 and older, driving can become even more difficult, according to the American Optometric Association. Some older drivers also may have compromised vision due to cataracts and degenerative eye diseases.

The AOA recommends older drivers:

  • Have annual vision exams
  • Reduce speed
  • Take a driving course; even experienced drivers can benefit from a refresher course, and some of the rules have probably changed
  • Minimize distractions, like talking with passengers or listening to the radio
  • Check with your doctor about side effects of prescription drugs
  • Limit driving to daytime hours if necessary

The Dangers of Driving Tired

dangers of driving drowsy - dolman law groupAdults need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep each day. About half of adult drivers admit to consistently getting behind the wheel while feeling drowsy. You are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued and losing even two hours of sleep is similar to the effect of having three beers.

A National Sleep Foundation poll says 60% of adults have driven while they were tired, and another 37%, or 103 million people, have fallen asleep at the wheel. Of those, 13% say they fall asleep while driving at least once a month, and 4% say they have caused a crash by falling asleep while driving. The reasons are many – shift work, lack of quality sleep, long work hours, sleep disorders – and it doesn't only happen on lengthy trips.

These staggering numbers are backed up by a report by NHTSA that 100,000 police-reported crashes are a result of driver fatigue. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every year about 100,000 police-reported crashes involve drowsy driving. These crashes result in more than 1,550 fatalities and 71,000 injuries.

The real number may be much higher, however, as it is difficult to determine whether a driver was drowsy at the time of a crash. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that 328,000 drowsy driving crashes occur annually. That's more than three times the police-reported number. The same study found that 109,000 of those drowsy driving crashes resulted in an injury and about 6,400 were fatal.

Drowsy driving puts everyone on the road at risk. Losing two hours of sleep has the same effect on driving as having three beers, and tired drivers are three times more likely to be in a car crash if they are fatigued.

  • Drivers' reaction times, awareness of hazards and ability to sustain attention all worsen the drowsier the driver is
  • Driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% – the U.S. legal limit
  • You are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued

Tips for Getting More Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation offers this advice:

  • Get seven or more hours of sleep a night
  • Don't drive if you've been awake for 16 hours or more
  • Stop every two hours to rest
  • Pull over and take a nap if you're drowsy
  • Travel during times you are normally awake

Staying Safe while Driving during Rush Hour

Evening rush hour is an inherently dangerous time to drive due to the increasingly crowded roadways, distracted and impaired drivers, and drivers rushing to get home.  In winter, it's dark during rush hour, compounding an already dangerous driving situation.

How can you make it home safely during rush hour?

  • Don't be an impatient driver; slow down
  • Stay in your lane and beware of drivers who dart from lane to lane
  • Even though the route may be familiar, don't go on autopilot; stay alert
  • In unfamiliar areas, consult a map before you go and memorize your route
  • Don't touch your phone, eat, drink or do other things that are distracting

Impaired Drivers are Too Common

Nearly 30 people die every day in crashes that involve a driver impaired by alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drivers impaired by prescription medicines and other drugs increase that number significantly. Impaired drivers are most frequently on the road after dark – particularly between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. on weekends.

While drunk driving has declined by about one-third since 2007, the number of drivers under the influence of drugs has increased. Between 2013 and 2014, 22% of drivers tested positive for a drug that would cause impairment, according to a roadside survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA also found that the prevalence of THC (found in marijuana) among drivers on weekend nights increased 48% since 2007, from 8.6% of drivers to 12.6%. Many states have not yet updated their impaired driving laws to address this growing problem.

In addition to all of the aforementioned dangers, Florida presents a unique, yet unavoidable hazard of its own -- Snowbirds. Though the Florida economy thrives during the winter months due to the annual population increase, these visitors may present a unique danger to others traveling the already busy roadways. Amongst these visitors are retired folks understandably looking to avoid the harsh northern winters. However, as a result, these individuals flock to a select few locations throughout the sunshine state and are unfamiliar with their surroundings, including traffic signage, stoplights, and navigation. Consequently, these individuals may be susceptible to increased GPS/Cellular Device usage resulting in sudden ill-advised movements across lanes and in front of others. This issue is compounded when these individuals are forced to navigate popular Florida roadways after dark using bright navigation devices.  This unique issue increases the likelihood of an automobile accident amongst those traveling the Florida roadways during the winter months.

Contact an Experienced Car Accident Attorney Today

At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we understand the importance of investigating all possible factors that may have been contributed to your night time accident. If you are going to be navigating the roadways at night either as a motor vehicle operator or a pedestrian, you need to take precautions to protect yourself from negligent drivers. Anticipating driver mistakes could help keep you safe. While a driver who runs a red light is going to be at fault, the injuries that result can be devastating. In many cases, you will be able to recover compensation for any injuries you have sustained, so it is important that anyone involved in a motor vehicle or pedestrian accident have their case fully reviewed by an experienced lawyer. Among the types of losses that are often compensable in a Florida accident case include the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Property damage
  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering

If you have been injured in a nighttime accident, contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today online or by calling 727-451-6900 to have your case reviewed by an experienced attorney.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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