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What to do to improve your driving at night – how does night vision work?

Driving at night can be perilous, especially when you can’t see very well, and it is very dark. Sure, the human eye is built to see in low light but when it is very dark outside, the photoreceptors in your eyes are not very active and they need some light to be triggered.

If you’re driving at night and it’s too dark to make out what’s ahead, your eye will start using its night vision. Read on to find out how night vision works and what you can do to improve your vision while driving at night.

a male driver in the car at night

What is night vision?

Night vision is a process that allows you to see in the dark. Your eyes contain photoreceptors that are triggered by light. These rods and cones in your eyes can sense light, but they’re sensitive to different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. The rods are sensitive to dimmer light while the cones are more sensitive to brighter light. When you look at something in the dark, it’s these photoreceptors sending signals to other parts of the brain responsible for memory and attention.

These parts tell your eyes to move around so that more light gets into them from different angles. That’s why you tend to look up at passing streetlights or headlights while driving at night – your brain wants more information about what’s happening around you!

Once this information is processed, you’re able to figure out what is ahead of you and even how fast it is moving. Things such as the flashing lights on cars ahead of you or streetlights along the road help to trigger these photoreceptors.

How does night vision work?

Your eyes are the organ of sight. They consist of a lens and a nerve-rich retina, which is the light-sensitive part of the eye. As we’ve said, rods are more sensitive to light than cones, but they don’t detect colour as well. Conversely, cones have lower sensitivity than rods but can detect colour.

At night or in low-light conditions, your eyes will open wider, and the pupils dilate so that more light can get into them. This lets you see better in the dark by making use of reflected light from streetlights or other sources of illumination.

Do night driving glasses help?

Our advice is: don’t buy night driving glasses off the shelf!

Some drivers report that they can see better when wearing night driving glasses. However, visual tests show that most of these glasses don’t improve vision at night and may not be helpful with spotting pedestrians or other objects on the road any faster than normal.

Are prescription lenses and coatings good for night driving?

If you wear prescription lenses to help you see, you should wear them while driving at night. Prescription lenses help to improve vision in all light conditions and may also significantly reduce glare at night. Adding an anti-glare (or anti-reflective coating) to your eyeglasses will allow for more light and reduce the glare from the headlights of oncoming cars.

Seiko’s RoadClearCoat (RCC), designed specifically for night driving, reduces the glare from oncoming traffic, as well as wet weather reflections. Seiko RCC also combats the higher luminance of modern Xenon and LED lights. You can even wear them during the day to reduce reflections.

image showing vision with and without Seiko Road Clear Coat

Can dietary changes improve night vision?

Following a healthy lifestyle and eating foods rich in Vitamin A can improve your eye health and ultimately help you see better when driving at night. Vitamin A contains rhodopsin which is the light-absorbing protein in the retina. Remember: the more light your eyes are able to take in, the better you are able to see. Foods containing Vitamin A are dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes. Vitamin A is also found in dairy products.

Vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant, may also protect your eyes against free radicals that can damage your eyes. Studies suggest that vitamin C may also help lower your risk of developing cataracts, a condition that causes your eye to become cloudy and impairs vision

Tips to improve night vision

  • Use your headlights and don’t rely solely on the low beams. Headlights help illuminate the road ahead of you, while high beams can help see farther into the distance than regular headlights do by casting more light in front of them (and less behind). This makes it easier to see what’s ahead of you and around corners. Using both simultaneously is ideal for maximum visibility but be careful not to blind other drivers.
  • Use fog lights in addition to regular headlights if necessary. Fog lights are specifically designed for situations where there isn’t much visibility due to fog or misty conditions. If it’s raining heavily enough that water droplets are being kicked up from puddles onto windshields, turn on your fog lights.
  • Keep your eyes moving. When you’re driving at night, it’s important to keep your eyes moving so that they don’t get stuck on one thing, which contributes to fatigue.
  • Make sure your windscreen is clean and scratch-free. Clean headlights and make sure that the bulbs are in good working order. 
  • Don’t stare at oncoming headlights – it takes longer to recover from the glare. Avert your eyes slightly to the left. 
  • Reduce speed in conditions of poor visibility such as in the dark and when it is foggy or raining.
  • Wear sunglasses during the day. Exposure to sunlight could reduce the degree of your night vision since it diminishes the ability of your eyes to adjust to the darkness.

 

Do not buy night driving glasses off the shelf. If you are experiencing trouble seeing at night, rather get your eyes tested by your optometrist to advise the appropriate prescription and lens coating for you. Night blindness can be caused by certain eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma. So, it is worth getting your eyes checked out.