I’d venture to say that there is a fair percentage of scooter riders who have never ridden at night. For some this may be because the need has never arisen. Some others would never entertain the thought for the perceived extra danger. Personally, I find night riding a pleasant and relaxing activity which, done correctly, is no more dangerous than riding during the day. There are even some distinct advantages safety-wise. Let’s shed some light on the subject:
Night riding can be a double-edged sword. In many ways, some hazards are made easier to see at night and, of course, the reduced visibility brings its own problems.
On the plus side, our own lights help us stand out. The fact that vehicles use lights at night can give us some useful opportunities for observation and observation links. This can give us some useful clues.
• Vehicles essentially project their presence with headlights.
• The sweep of headlights can indicate a bend ahead.
• The glow of headlights announce the vehicle that is about to round the bend ahead, or is about to come over the hill.
• Interior lights announce that a stationary vehicle is occupied and/or that a door has been opened.
• Sudden disappearance of rear lights announce that there is likely a hill or a sharp curve ahead.
There is, however, one golden rule that essentially means that night riding will always be done at a slower speed than may be done during the day. It has been referenced many times in my book and this blog. It is, in my opinion, the most important rule to adhere to when riding. Can you think what it is?
Yes, it is this: Always ride so that you can stop in the distance you can see to be clear.
Clearly, in areas not flooded with street lighting, the distance we can see to be clear will be limited to the range of our headlight. Therefore, our speed will be limited by this distance.
It is tempting, particularly in areas about which we have local knowledge, to go out of this range, but in doing so, we are trusting to luck. Good road craft is all about eliminating any situations where we may be in the hands of lady luck.
Dusk and dawn are particularly dangerous times
Statistically, dusk and dawn are the most dangerous time to be riding a scooter or motorcycle. At this time, we don’t yet have, or have lost, the advantage of light beams projected by other vehicles, but contrast is lessened, colours are muted, and edges are less distinct. It is at this time that vehicles — particularly scooters — tend to merge into the background and disappear. It is prime time for the infamous SMIDSY. We must exercise particular vigilance at these times of the day.
Bear in mind that certain weather conditions — particularly before a storm — do a fair impression of dusk and dawn lighting conditions so the same vigilance has to be practised at these times.
Night riding especially calls for scrupulously clean and scratch-free visors, screens and glasses if you wear them for riding. Glare from oncoming vehicles and street lighting can greatly reduce visibility just at a time when we need it the most. The cleaner, and more scratch-free anything that is in front of our eyes is, the less the glare will affect us.
Our Lights at Night
It goes without saying that our lights should be used in times of reduced visibility. In proximity to other vehicles (in front or behind, or at any time when our lights could dazzle other road users), we should use dipped-beam. At other times, full or high-beam will often give us the best view.
I say often give us the best view because there are particular circumstances where we may get a better view with dipped-beam even if there are no other vehicles nearby:
• Often, when executing a bend to the right at night, our lights illuminate our way better on dipped beam. This is because they are designed to project the most light toward that side of the road when on dipped-beam. Of course, this is reversed for our readers who live in countries where you drive on the left. In which case, a better view of the road on a bend to the left can often be obtained by using dipped-beam.
• Often, when riding in fog or heavy rain or snow, our high-beam will cause so much light to be reflected back at us that it is better to switch to dipped-beam. At times like this we should, of course, adjust our speed accordingly so that we can stop in the distance we can see to be clear. In this case, that distance is the extent of our dipped beam.
Dealing with glare from oncoming vehicles
Inevitably, there will be times that you are faced with the glare of an oncoming vehicle with badly adjusted headlights, or headlights that have been negligently left on high-beam. The effects from this can last for quite a while after that vehicle has passed. Allow time for your eyes to adjust again.
To help alleviate this problem, if you are faced with an oncoming vehicle blinding you with their lights, avert your eyes to the nearside of the road, and use the edge marking of the road to guide you until the vehicle has passed. Use your peripheral vision to keep a look out for hazards ahead, but be aware that you are working with dramatically reduced vision. Consider slowing down accordingly.
One final point: I’m a great believer in highly visible clothing (actually, I generally try to avoid invisible clothing). Let’s re-word that: clothing which makes you highly visible. Yes, that’s better. Anyway, a high-viz jacket helps during the day and night, especially if it is built with reflective strips. If your riding jacket isn’t high-vis, I would strongly suggest investing in one that is. Something like this (click on link to view in Amazon):
Another option which is very cost effective is a vest, which fits over your regular jacket:
Finally, an extremely cost effective option is the reflective “vest”, which simply consists of a bridle-like arrangement which fits easily over whatever clothing you are wearing, like this:
I really consider these things a life saver.
So, let’s get out there and do some night riding. You may find it becomes your favourite time to ride!