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Riding at Night


Riding at night is quite a different ball game.

Reduced Visibility

You see less which yields less information. Your normally wide field of vision is narrowed to the field illuminated by your headlight. Additionally, depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision are compromised after sundown.

Perception and reaction times increase (up to 3 seconds for the unimpaired).

Properly aligned and clean headlights are important for you to maximize the illuminated distance ahead, distance is your friend.

Make sure your headlight are clean; half of the total output can be absorbed by dirt, salt, etc.


On unlit roads your headlight should be on high beam unless you have to drop it for other road users. Low beams should be used:

  • in built-up areas
  • heavy rain, snow, fog when the falling droplets reflect glare
  • to avoid blinding oncoming drivers
  • overtaking another vehicle (return to high beam when you are parallel with it)

Always ride so as to be able to stop within the area you can see to be clear; at night this is the area lit by your headlight (unless there is full street lighting).

Even under the best conditions your ability to assess the speed and position of oncoming vehicles is reduced at night, so you need to allow an extra safety margin.

You should be traveling at a speed that would allow you to stop safely within the distance covered by your headlights.

Be careful not to overdrive your headlights. Since the distance illuminated by headlights will vary, it is important you find out what that distance is for you.

Most high-beam headlights (maintained properly) shine no more than 450 feet ahead. Low beam is about 150 feet.

If you are traveling at 40 mph (about 60 fps) on low beam you have about 2.5 seconds of vision ahead.

If an emergency exists beyond your range of vision your only going to have the 2.5 seconds to react. At 60 mph, you have about 1.7 seconds to react. Since perception can take of to 3 seconds for unimpaired drivers, you start to see (pun) you simply do not have enough time to react and you are flirting with disaster.

Also, be careful about pedestrians who have no trouble seeing you and therefore believe that since they can see you, you can see them. They don’t have a clue about illuminated distance of headlights.

Headlight Design

Headlights are designed to illuminate only the front of the vehicle. They cannot illuminate around a corner which introduces an additional hazard on curves.

Down hill on sags your illuminated distance will be drastically shortened as you approach the sag and your lights are shining into the ground. You will not be able to see sufficiently for the uphill swing until you are actually going uphill. Additionally, if you are applying your front brakes going downhill the front forks will compress downward, further limiting the illuminated distance.


Headlights shining directly into your eyes may temporarily blind you for up to 2 seconds; at 40 mph you traversed 117 feet without seeing.

To avoid blinding, look toward the nearside edge of the road (fog line).

Following other vehicles at night

When you follow another vehicle, low beam headlight should be on and allow a sufficient gap so that your light does not blind the driver in front.

When you overtake, move out early with your headlight on low beam. When you are alongside the other vehicle return to high beam.

If you are overtaken, return to low beam when the vehicle draws alongside you and keep it low until it can be raised without blinding the driver.

Information from other vehicle’s lights

You can get useful information from the front and rear lights of other vehicles. For example, the sweep of the headlight of vehicles approaching a bend can indicate the sharpness of the bend, and the brake lights of vehicles in front can give you an early warning to reduce speed.

Night fatigue

Night riding is tiring because it puts extra strain on you eyes. If you are having difficulty keeping your eyes open, you are a danger to yourself and others; find somewhere safe to stop and rest until you are alert enough to continue safely. Allow for more stops on a long trip.

Signs of fatigue are:

  • difficulty focusing
  • frequent blinking
  • heavy eyelids
  • trouble remembering last few files driven
  • missing exits or traffic signs
  • repeated yawning
  • rubbing your eyes
  • trouble keeping your head up
  • drifting from your lane
  • tailgating
  • riding over rumbles
  • restless or irritable

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