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Drivesmart column: Bright ideas for driving at night

Are your headlights pointed in the right direction?
Drive Smart columnist Tim Schewe.

By Tim Schewe

The third week in September marked the official start of fall and noticeably shorter days. That means many of us will be driving in the dark more often. Here are some bright ideas for driving at night.

Always Use Your Lights

Bob tells me that he used to be a safety committee member in industry. His favourite mnemonic was KBL: Keys in the ignition, seat Belt on, Lights on. Having accomplished that, you were now ready to consider putting your vehicle in motion.

KBL was always the routine, regardless of whether it was day or night.

Do Your Lights Actually Light?

When is the last time that you checked all of your vehicle’s lights to make sure that they were working? If you have to pause and think for a moment, it is likely well past the time to check again.

Are Lights and Reflectors in Good Condition?

Now that we have the lamps lit, there are other considerations for proper night vision. Are all the lenses clear, undamaged, not full of condensation and aimed properly? Opaque or yellowed headlight lenses or lenses coated with dirt or condensation don’t transmit the light that you need to see with properly and blind other drivers with glare.

Are Your Headlights Pointed in the Right Direction?

Both vertical and horizontal aim is important to focus your headlights where the light is needed. Misadjustment means less light for you to see by and more glare to affect the vision of other drivers around you.

Unless you know what you are doing, this is probably a vehicle maintenance task that you should have a professional do for you.

Warning About Daytime Running Lights

My Twitter account was well populated with messages about lights last year at this time. The reminders were for those of us whose vehicles did not have daytime running lights that turned on all the lights. Some drivers would see the headlight illumination and not remember that the back of their vehicle remained dark until they turned on all the lights themselves.

Automatic Lights

A nice convenience in some newer vehicles are lighting systems that turn all the lights on automatically when it is appropriate. Drivers no longer have to do it themselves, unless the light switch is turned to Off instead of Auto. The KBL routine would have you check to make sure the switch is set to Auto rather than turning the lights on.

Upgrades Are Not Always Improvements

Beware what you spend your money on if you are considering a lighting upgrade on your own. Illegal products abound on store shelves or sold over the internet. Some of the legal choices are not what they seem either. Osram Sylvania was the subject of a class action lawsuit in the U.S. over their Silver Star headlight bulbs. The suit alleged that the company rigged the comparison with standard bulbs to influence consumers.

Clean Your Windshield

Let’s not reduce the effectiveness of your vehicle’s lights by trying to see through a dirty windshield. Keep the windshield clean, inside and out. A new pair of windshield wiper blades might be in order to help with this.

Night Driving Kit

Some paper towels and a spray bottle containing windshield washer fluid could be a wise addition to your night driving kit along with a spare bulb or two.

Keep Your Distance!

Increase your following distance by another second or two. You don’t see as well at night and the extra space will give you more time to anticipate and avoid problems.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit