Driving in the dark: Safe van driving guide

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Bruce Springsteen may have relished dancing in the dark. Heck, who doesn’t? But driving in the dark isn’t always something to relish. Unless, perhaps, you read our guide for how to drive a van safely in the dark. So what are you waiting for? Crack on and do your best to get the Boss out of your head.

Don’t drive tired

No messing around here; driver fatigue is a killer. Thousands of accidents are caused by tiredness every year. Hundreds of these lead to serious injury, with some research suggesting fatigue contributes to up to 20% of accidents and 25% of fatal and serious accidents. As there’s no test for tiredness, the real numbers could be much higher. And while we’re at it, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This can lead to dire consequences at any time, but particularly after dark.

We were on a break

Long journeys can be more tiring in the dark, especially if you’ve had a long day at work or been behind the wheel for many hours already. Breaking up the monotony of a motorway journey by stopping at service stations is a great way to stay fresh. Even if you’re driving on smaller roads, finding a safe spot to pull over for some fresh air or maybe a drink or bite to eat can help keep your senses nice and sharp. Just don’t eat ‘my sandwich’…

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Time’s a healer

To ensure you have enough time to play with to take any breaks you may need, it’s always a good idea to set off nice and early. This applies to any journey, day or night, but rushing at night can be even more dangerous. For example, you may struggle to spot a pedestrian wearing dark clothes or a cyclist riding without lights. If you’re driving too fast, the consequences of this could be awful. Plan your journey so you know how long it’s likely to take. Sat navs can be really accurate at night-time because there’s usually less traffic on the roads, so there’s no excuse.

Check your look in the mirror

It doesn’t matter if you want to change your clothes, your hair or your face. This is about ensuring you’ve got a clear view out of all your van’s windows and that your wing mirrors are clean. Visibility is greatly reduced at night, so you need to have the best view of all your surroundings. This is particularly important as vans don’t usually have many windows. That should make giving them a quick clean nice and fast if they’re dirty though.

Light check 1, 2

It doesn’t take a genius to know why it’s important to have working lights at night. Lots of people still drive in the dark without all their lights though, or resort to full beams when one of their headlights goes out. This is both annoying and dangerous, but we’ll come to that in a second. As well as your headlights, make sure your brake, side, fog lights and indicators are all in fine fettle before embarking on your evening adventures.

It’s rude to stare

Whether you’re driving along busy roads or only coming across another motorist once in a while, don’t stare at the headlights of oncoming vehicles. This can cause temporary blindness, which is obviously really dangerous. Lots of modern cars have ultra-bright headlights which can be especially bad if you look directly at them – so avoid doing so.

Cut out your own razzle dazzle

On a similar note, you should be aware of blinding motorists driving in the opposite direction to you. If you’re using your full beams, make sure you dip them when other vehicles are driving towards you. Van headlights are usually higher than a car’s, meaning you can be more likely to blind an oncoming driver in a smaller vehicle.

Spot the signs

One of the reasons you need to look after your own eyes and those of your fellow motorists, is so you can see and read road signs clearly. Whether you’re looking for your turn-off or making sure you’re travelling within the speed limit, keep a keen eye out for signs which may be harder to spot at night.

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Easy, Lewis

On the subject of speed, few can drive like Lewis Hamilton. But none should attempt to on a public road, especially when driving a van in the dark. Potential hazards can be tougher to spot at night, but the slower you’re travelling, the more time you’ll have to react to them.

Be dim, for once

Being dim isn’t often advisable when you’re driving. Unless you’re talking about the lights on your dashboard. Some vans can be lit up like Blackpool Illuminations inside the cabin, but sometimes there’s a control for dimming how bright the lights on your dash are. Reducing the brightness in this way can be particularly useful for long journeys at night.

It’s not risible to be visible

If the worst happens and you break down while driving at night, being seen could be the difference between staying safe and, well, not. Keep a high-vis jacket somewhere accessible in the cabin of your van and pop it on before you get out. Get your van as far off the road as possible, leave the sidelights on and use a warning triangle to warn other drivers.

Mind the gap

Just like driving in the rain, keeping your distance from other vehicles is very important in the dark. This is because the reduced visibility can impact your reaction time, meaning you’re more likely to rear-end the person in front if you follow them too closely.

Don’t go round the bend

Well, unsafely that is. You should approach bends with extra caution when it’s dark, especially when you’re driving on unlit roads where your headlights might not illuminate the entire corner. Take note of any road signs warning you about sharp turns and control your speed in case someone coming the other way blinds you with their full beams.

Light up, light up – if you have the choice

All props to you if you can avoid those quiet country lanes altogether by choosing a well-lit route. Driving a large van can be tricky at the best of times, so why not make life easier for yourself and take a little bit of time to plot a route which sticks to main roads as much as possible?


Planning on regularly driving a van? Read our helpful guide on driving in the snow to keep yourself and other road users safe throughout the seasons.



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