AAA’s tips to help you see better when driving in the dark

AAA World Article

If bright headlights and glare bother you when you drive at night, you’re not alone. With the right strategies, you can learn how to handle nighttime glare with confidence. 

Drivers have been complaining about glare ever since electric headlights began replacing oil lamps on automobiles more than 100 years ago. So why does glare seem to have grown worse? The answer involves technology, automotive design, and demographics.

Many vehicles now sport fog lamps or other auxiliary lights in front. Ideally, fog lamps cast a low, broad beam to reduce back-scatter from the vehicle’s headlights when water droplets hang in the air. They’re intended to improve a driver’s ability to see in foggy, misty, or hazy conditions. However, when they’re aimed improperly or used on clear nights, they can annoy other drivers. Headlights pointed as little as one degree too high can make a huge difference to oncoming drivers. Vehicles more than five years old are twice as likely to have off-kilter headlights as new ones. 

Like beauty, glare is often in the eye of the beholder. Drivers middle-aged and older are more sensitive to glare than younger drivers because their eyes take longer to adjust to changing light levels. For example, a 55-year-old takes eight times longer to recover from glare than a 16-year-old. Lighter-colored eyes usually are more sensitive, which means the lighter your eyes are the more likely glare will bother you. Certain other conditions, such as having had vision-correction surgery that affects the corneas, also may increase your sensitivity to glare.

Aim headlights correctly. Take your vehicle to a AAA Car Care Center at least once a year to make sure your headlights are properly aligned.

Keep all glass clear and clean. Streaks, smudges, and road grime on your windows catch and refract light, and chemicals from the plastic in your car’s interior can build up on the glass. Scratched eyeglasses or contact lenses also make the glare worse. For maximum glare prevention, keep every surface between your eyes and the road as clear as possible. Clean the windows both inside and out at least once a month to get rid of haze. Clean your wiper blades with a paper towel dipped in windshield washer fluid. This removes grime and oxidized rubber from the edge of the blade and helps prevent streaking.

Clean your headlights. Be sure to clean your headlights, too. Even a thin layer of road grime on lenses can block up to 90 percent of the light and severely restrict your ability to see at night. Clean lenses are even more important if you have high-intensity discharge (HID) or xenon headlights. Dirt diffuses the light from HID lights and causes glare that can temporarily blind other drivers, so headlight-cleaning systems are standard equipment on many cars with HID lights.

Adjust both outside mirrors. Properly aligned mirrors reduce glare from vehicles behind you. AAA recommends the following method: While sitting in the driver’s seat, lean to the left and tilt your head until it rests against the window. From that position, adjust the driver’s side mirror so you can just see the left rear corner of the vehicle. Next, while sitting in the driver’s seat, lean to the right and tilt your head until it’s in the center of the vehicle. From that position adjust the passenger-side mirror so that the right rear corner of the vehicle is just visible. Now when cars pass you, you’ll notice that your mirrors don’t direct the brightest part of the headlights into your eyes. This arrangement also reduces blind spots.

Avert your eyes. When oncoming vehicles shine light directly into your eyes, look down and to the right. Turn your gaze to the white line on the right side of the road, or to where pavement meets the shoulder, until the vehicle passes. You still can see the vehicles around you with your peripheral vision, but the glare won’t bother you as much because you are not using the most light-sensitive part of your eyes. 

Use your mirror’s night setting. All cars have day/night interior mirrors to reduce reflected glare from vehicles directly behind you. Change the mirror to its “night” setting by flipping the small lever at the bottom of the mirror. This changes the angle of the reflective surface and appears to dim the mirror. Lights will show up in the glass, but they’re much dimmer and less bothersome. 

Use your lights courteously. In fog, use only your low-beam headlights; high beams reduce your own ability to see and may temporarily blind other drivers. If your car has fog lamps, only use them if there is fog and in conjunction with your low beams. Avoid using your high beams when you see oncoming vehicles or when you drive in urban areas.  

Take frequent breaks. If you’re driving at night for a long time, stop often to reduce fatigue and give your eyes a chance to recover. 

Drivers with vision problems may find that even these techniques don’t help. In that case, consider driving less at night or restricting your travel to routes that have good overhead roadway lighting and clear, well-maintained pavement markings.