Increased chance of crash for switched-off drivers

The use of headlights at dusk can prevent crashes and even save lives. But drivers forgetting to switch on their lights, or those relying on automatic lights, are putting themselves and other motorists at risk.

Our tests show 14 per cent of drivers fail to turn on their headlights at dusk. The results come at a time of year when drivers spend afternoon peak hours navigating low-light conditions.

Poor light and higher risks

Our research shows the chance of an afternoon crash doubles in winter. Motorists are more likely to hit fixed objects as well as pedestrians, animals and other cars. Precautions such as remembering to switch on your headlights are just as important as leaving a safe three-second gap between your vehicle and the car in front.

Accident grey periods

During the winter months, motorists need to be most vigilant between 3pm and 6pm. The number of crashes doubles during this window compared to the daily average for the rest of the year.

Another concern is drivers who rely on their modern cars to activate automatic headlights. In periods of low light, tests show that automatic systems activate at various times in the late afternoon.

Amidst the fog

Low light isn’t the only hazard for winter commuters at this time of year. Police warn of the dangers of failing to properly clear frost, fog and ice from windows and windscreens. This can also lead to traffic infringement notices, demerit points and motorists being held accountable for ‘driving a vehicle without clear view’.

Getting some clarity

Motorists starting their vehicles on mornings with fog-affected windows should be ready to embrace the cold for a few minutes before setting off. De-humidified, warm air from air conditioners can dry windscreens quicker than just using the car's heater.

Providing the outside air is above freezing, use your air conditioner in combination with the heater when defogging your windows. If your windscreen is iced up, wait until the engine warms up, the heater is blowing warm air, and the windscreen is clear before moving off.

Increase the gap

The safest distance between your vehicle and the car in front may be greater than you think. Traffic authorities advise extending the standard three-second gap to four seconds in the wet. If another motorist moves into that space, ease off the accelerator and reestablish your safe zone.

How important is it to ‘switch on’?

On a common stretch of road north of Sydney, it rains only 32 per cent of the year. Yet 57 per cent of all crashes in the area occur in the rain. Being aware of potential risks and making sure that your car is visible to other road users will help you avoid becoming another statistic.

As the winter chill is often the first thing you feel when you leave home or work at this time of year, it’s important to remember to engage in better cold weather driving etiquette. It’s also incredibly important to not rely entirely on the automatic functions of your car.

As Robert McDonald, our Head of Research states:

“Many cars have headlights that automatically turn on when it gets darker. Although they are effective it is best not to rely solely on this setting as in some cases it may already be quite dark before headlights are switched on”.

With this in mind, we suggest that you trust your instincts over technology and be extra vigilant in winter.

For more driving tips and advice to help keep you safe on the road, visit SGIC Safety.