Snapshot: Right at the outset, let’s make one thing clear. Driving at night might not be very safe in India, especially with the kind of roads and unpredictable traffic conditions one may encounter. Also, you’ll miss out most of the best scenery that India serves up on her roads. But then again, if you must make a journey at night, here are 10 vital tips that can make you drive a safer one.
Before the night journey
Jumping into the car after a long day of work and setting off to your destination a thousand kilometers away isn’t the best way to start your drive. A well rested body is an alert body that can cope up with the rigors that Indian roads can throw at it during the sun down hours. So, if you have a long day of work, ensure that you get a couple of hours of nap before embarking on that night drive. Sleeping for 4-5 hours before the journey works even better.
First of all, the car you intend to drive during the night must have proven to be reliable. You don’t want a car that shuts off on you in the middle of nowhere, do you? Moving on, ensure that the car is well maintained, has its vital aggregates such as tyres, headlamps and turn indicators in good shape. A tool kit with the basic essentials such as a jack and a wheel spanner are musts. Do carry your manual along too. A clean windscreen is mandatory. Carry a few bottles of water and a few newspapers along with you so that you can wash and wipe the windscreen and headlamps when they get dirty. Carry plenty of drinking water along and a few non-oily snacks, read fruits, will be welcome additions.
Having a hearty, five course meal at night isn’t advisable even when you aren’t driving. So, having one just before a night drive is a dumb thing to do. Eat light and go easy on the carbohydrates so that you don’t doze off at the wheel. Oily food is best avoided.
Invest in good quality auxiliary lamps
Most hatchbacks and sedans in India have poor OEM headlamps. Good lighting is critical on night drives. So, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in good quality auxiliary lamps if your stock headlamps are weak. Also, do consider upping the wattage of your headlamps if such a move does help in improving illumination and light spread. Reputed brands for auxiliary lamps are Hella and LightForce.
So, you’re all set to embark on your first long distance night drive. Time to belt up and hit the road.
Well, Slow Down
By slow down, we mean it’s better that you drive at a speed that’s slower than what you would normally do on the same road during the day. For instance, if you do about 100 Kph on the given highway during the day, 90 Kph or 80 Kph at night would be better, even if you’re extremely familiar with the road. Darkness brings surprises with it and Indian roads are notorious for having broken down trucks on the fast lane and sometimes even tractor trailers moving chugging along at a steady 40 Kph. These vehicles usually have no reflectors and are almost invisible till you get too close for comfort, and perhaps evasive action.
Maintain larger distances
Keeping distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you is common sense. Maintaining a larger distance is better at night given the fact that reaction times are slower during the night and not to mention that poor light means poorer judgments. So, try and keep 1.5 times the distance you would otherwise keep between yourself and the vehicle ahead of you during the day.
Use a pilot vehicle but do not tail gate
If the situation demands , you may use a car/bus moving at a constant speed albeit faster than you as a pilot car. This is an efficient way to maintain decent speeds on road stretches you aren’t very familiar with. However, ensure that you do not tail gate. Also, if the pilot vehicle is driving rashly, simply stop following and fall back. Also, it is a good idea to inform the vehicle that you plan to use as a pilot before hand as people usually don’t like someone constantly tailing them. Another point to keep in mind is to remain alert at all times when you’re using a vehicle ahead as a pilot or lead. Getting lulled into a complacent mood can make tailing a pilot/lead very dangerous.
Avoid single lanes and unknown roads
If you can stick to national highways with clear dividers/lane markings, there’s nothing like it. If you do have to take a single lane or unknown roads, do so very cautiously. Try and avoid such roads as much as possible. For example, if you have a national highway that takes you to your destination in 200 kilometers, it is better than a single lane/unknown road that promises the same destination in 150-160 kilometers.
Dip your headlamps whenever/wherever necessary
Driving in low beam is polite and safer if you have headlamps that illuminate well. However, if the low beam of your stock headlamps is useless and you have to resort to high beam and auxiliary lamps, you must also dip your headlamps to make life easier for oncoming traffic. A overly bright set of headlamps is inviting trouble as the oncoming vehicle could get blinded and may drive straight into you.
Also, assume you have to navigate a narrow bridge/narrow section of road. It is always a good idea to switch off your headlamps and keep only the parking lights on when you crawl to a halt. Doing so will allow the oncoming vehicle to pass you safely.
Take small bio/water breaks frequently
When you do spot a stretch of road that has a few shops/dhabas you may take small bio/water breaks so that your mind feels relaxed. Ensure that your car is locked and the windows rolled up when you stop. Using air conditioning is better than attracting unwanted attention. When you pull over, switch on your hazard lights and park away from the main thoroughfare.
Simply pull over when you’re drowsy
You began your drive at 10 PM and now it is 2 AM. You’re feeling the first tinge of drowsiness. Simply pull over and take a nap. Lock the doors and lower the windows partially for air circulation. If you can find a fuel station/truck stop or dhaba, parking there would be a good idea. An hour’s nap when you’re sleepy will go a long way in keeping you fresh and alert for 3-4 hours more. Do not risk it. It simply isn’t worth driving when you’re drowsy as the first signs of drowsiness is your body’s indication that it needs a break. Respect it, and reach home safer, even if a bit later.
Image courtesy HartwellBlog