As the weather heats up and teens gear up for prom, graduation, and summer vacation, education might be the last thing on their minds. Yet, however fun and exciting this time of year can be, one thing is certain as plans and memories are made – the risk behind the wheel is real. With motor vehicle crashes continuing to lead as the number one cause of death for teenagers, the danger cannot be brushed off. And this is where education comes in.
Driving at night is more dangerous than any other time of day, according to the National Safety Council, with traffic deaths three times greater at night compared to daytime hours. What’s more, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one-third of fatal teen automotive crashes occur at night, with 57 percent of those taking place before 12:00 a.m. Teenage drivers are faced with many distractions, but driver visibility doesn’t need to be one of them. Driver vision, which is compromised at night, can be a main factor in nighttime crashes.
Being educated on the risks of nighttime driving is a first step in combating a preventable death. The second is arming teens with the toolkit to see better while driving at night. Every second or foot counts when reacting to a situation on the road – the sooner the obstacle or oncoming vehicle can be seen, the quicker the ability to react. While more experienced drivers might know what steps to take to prevent an accident or better manage the situation, the lack of experience or the “lessons learned” piece for newer drivers might interfere with reaction time. That’s where headlights come in. Although often overlooked, headlights are an active safety feature for drivers, and increase visibility for avoiding obstacles and collisions.
Teaching young drivers about the importance of good lighting and seeing farther down the road with value-added headlights is one of the easiest and most important safety measures that we can do to help them avoid unfortunate incidents. When it comes to car maintenance and travel, it’s no surprise that turn signals, focus and attention to the road, seat belts, oil changes, engine tune-ups and functional wiper blades all have their place in keeping drivers safe. What many may not realize is that headlights are the first line of defense for drivers.
The following headlight maintenance tips will help teens, parents, and guardians better prepare for driving after dark and improve vehicle safety. Class is in session – here’s some headlight maintenance 101:
- Replace before burnout: Headlights can dim over time, so replacement before burnout is key. Dimming creates less light on the road and less light downroad so drivers can’t see as far as before. When every foot counts, dimmed headlights could be 10, 20 or even 30 feet reduction downroad. All too often, vehicles with burned-out headlights can be found traveling on dark roads, posing a risk to both the driver and others on the road. A good rule of thumb – can’t remember the last time headlights were changed? It is likely time for replacements.
- Always swap in pairs: Since headlights dim over their lifetime, a new bulb paired with an old bulb creates an uneven field of vision for drivers, which can be a major distraction on the road. Replace headlights in sets of two.
- Properly aim headlights: It’s important to properly align and aim headlights to ensure that they are aimed on the road, rather than in the eyes of oncoming drivers or pointed too far down so the driver can’t see as much as legally possible. If a vehicles’ headlight aim is off, it can drastically decrease nighttime visibility. This simple DIY fix can make a tremendous difference and improve safety.
- Invest in farther down the road headlight bulbs: Value-added headlights help increase down road visibility so drivers can react sooner. It will be money well spent, as better headlights can help increase further down road visibility, which in turn can help nighttime drivers feel safer and more secure. Look for headlights that offer greater down road visibility with a whiter light for improved clarity. Whiter light improves contrast, allowing a driver to better distinguish objects on the side of the road.
- Consider DIY: Learning to change a tire is often a rite of passage (at least in my day), and changing a vehicle’s headlight bulb is usually a simple process that doesn’t require a mechanic or service professional. Various online guides and resources such as the Car Care Kiosk, exist to help drivers swap out headlight bulbs in a matter of minutes. Consult the vehicle’s owner’s manual for bulb/headlight replacement procedures, needed tools and safety precautions. Always wear safety glasses and work gloves as well.
This time of year calls for celebration, but also education. The dangers of nighttime driving for teens are very real, but increasing awareness of associated risks and improving driver visibility through education around headlight maintenance tips is a step in the right direction.
NOYS thanks SYLVANIA Automotive for their generous support of Global Youth Traffic Safety Month.