In my experience, driving at night gets more challenging as we age. The thing that I find most difficult is driving at night in a light rain.The oncoming headlights seem brighter with the added glare from the rain, and the parts of the road that are not illuminated seem like black holes, where any light is simply sucked into total darkness more intense than you’ve ever witnessed. In times like these there are brief moments when your forward progress is resting on blind faith. Thankfully those shot in the dark moments are measured in nanoseconds, and I do fear that they may grow longer with ageing.
I recall a vacation to Nova Scotia many years back. I had a diesel-powered European economy car with really good halogen headlights at the time. Good thing I had strong lights because we had to make a mad rush from our hotel to the ferry dock in Yarmouth pre-dawn. If we missed the Scotia Prince we would be stuck in Nova Scotia for one more day, which was not in the plan. I’d rather not say how fast I drove that car in the dark with fog that had rolled in all along the coast, but it was in excess of any posted limits by a wide margin. I felt at the time that I had enough lights to travel at those hyper-legal speeds, but in retrospect it was pure luck that the roads were practically deserted, and the RCMP wasn’t running any radar that morning. This was an example of what my father used to preach to me about; overdriving the headlights. It’s that place where your speed exceeds the amount of vision you need to be able to brake in time to avoid something in your path. Being a former Vermont State Trooper and motor vehicle inspector, I knew the old man was right. His words of warning replay in my mind to this very day.
I’ve never had the best vision. I’ve worn corrective lenses since the age of 6, and if you see me in public and I don’t acknowledge you, it’s because I didn’t recognize you from whatever distance we were from each other.
That being said, I have always liked "supplemental lighting" on my vehicles. I haven’t always had the luxury of extra lights, but right now I have driving lights on two vehicles, and I use them. Unlike the built-in fog lights that come with so many cars, my driving lights come on when the vehicle’s standard lights are already on high beam. Fog lights help you see peripherally when your vehicle lights are on low beam. Driving lights are meant to pierce the night when your vehicle’s lights are on high beam, extending your range of vision so that you do not overdrive your available lighting. They are legal, amazingly effective, and worth every penny they cost to purchase and have professionally installed. They have additional benefits that the manufacturer does not tell you about, as well.
We all know the scenario. You are driving along on a very dark night when a car comes around a corner and your eyes did not pick up the sometimes subtle signs that a vehicle is approaching, like reflected light off utility lines. You are caught with your high beams up, the other driver turns on their "brights" and you come away from the encounter with a touch of night blindness. Sometimes the other driver leaves the brights on in a pique of frustration with your slow response. Or they flick the brights just before the moment you pass by each other, leaving you no time to respond in kind, which is just as rude as the other driver’s behavior.
Well, a good set of Hella halogen driving lights should light the road in front of you for what seems like a mile. Reflectors and animal eyes are seen at much greater distances, and believe me, your presence is known to any oncoming traffic, long before actual visual contact is made. It has been my experience that no one will challenge a slow response in dimming the lights from you when equipped with this type of supplemental lighting. If you do happen to meet someone coming at you with the brights on, just a tiny millisecond long burst from your Hellas will always bring the desired response. I’m all for safer night driving, and a good set of driving lights makes travel safer for all parties involved.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.