For any driver, getting behind the wheel at dusk or later adds a new set of challenges in addition to the typical ones that exist during the day. Combine that with inexperience and burgeoning technology, and it's no wonder teen drivers are at particular risk after the sun goes down.
According to a national 10-year study of highway fatalities by the Texas Transportation Institute, driving after dark is the most common documented factor associated with crashes involving young drivers. The study also found that the chances of a crash increased dramatically when other risk factors were present, most notably cellphone use.
Before your teen takes the wheel, it is important that the risks and dangers of driving at night are discussed and understood, and that the particular rules of your state are followed.
Here are five tips to ensuring that your teen drives cautiously after dark:
1. Check the vehicle specs
For safe driving anytime, but especially at night, a driver should always adjust their personal specs, including, but not limited to seat position, lights and mirrors.
“When a teen starts driving, they generally have use of a vehicle belonging to another,” explains insurance specialist Mark Tagliaferro of Coffey & Co. in Sparks, Md. “For this reason, it is critical to check all of these personalized positions before the car starts moving.”
Tagliaferro also stresses the importance of knowing proper protocol when using all car lights, especially for turning the bright lights on and off.
2. Get it in writing
Before a teen even receives a license, insurance companies suggest that the parents and the budding driver create a written agreement outlining all of the rules and regulations surrounding the operation of any motor vehicle.
Included in this agreement should be the hours a teen can drive, as well as who can ride in the car (state law may override this depending on the driver’s time with a license) and how many people can be in the vehicle at one time.
Other items to consider are when and where electronic gadgets such as cell phones and GPS devices can be used. Parents may want to consider that all devices must be housed in the glove compartment unless the vehicle is in the parked position.
3. Limit the speed
Speed is a factor in many collisions, but when you combine the perfect storm of inexperience, speed and darkness, things can get even trickier. Remind your teen that a speed limit is just that, a limit, and they should not feel pressured to do that speed or higher at any time. Remember that it is always easier to stop at a slower rate of speed.
4. Pay extra attention
The sharpness of vision can decrease as early as dusk. For this reason, extra attention needs to be paid for obstacles and changes in driving patterns.
“Giving your environment extra attention is critical, especially when you can consider the temperature change as the sun goes down,” explains Shelly Fairchild, a senior loss control consultant with the Hanover Insurance Group. “What was once a puddle can turn into black ice with a drop of a few degrees.”
5. Be wary of fatigue
Not getting enough sleep, spending long hours studying for school and learning to master a new skill can strain a teen's attention span. Nevertheless, new drivers should strive to avoid fatigue because it can have a profound effect on reaction time. If you are driving while drowsy, pull over and take a break.
A last thought from Fairchild of the Hanover Insurance Group: “Don’t drive like you own the road; drive like you own the car.”