Episode 150 – Low Light Driving Conditions

Welcome to the Executive Protection and Secure Transportation Podcast brought to you by the International Security Driver Association. The topic of today’s episode is low-light driving conditions.

EP practitioners attend low light shooting programs – but how many have attended a training program or are aware of the problems created by low light driving scenarios. Our, defined as the ISDA and Vehicle Dynamics Institute, forensic analysis of the recent Omar García Harfuch ambush indicated that low light conditions contributed to the outcome of the scenario.

The ambush was conducted in a low-light driving scenario, approximately 6:35 AM. ISDA and VDI recreated the OGH ambush in low light conditions and found that there is a significant difference in headlight distance from vehicle to vehicle – the same make and model can have headlight distance that also varies considerably.

The ISDA and Vehicle Dynamics Institute found that the timing and the decision-making process in daylight are not the same as it is low light driving conditions.

With the standard time approaching us (that is putting our clocks back one hour), security drivers will find themselves spending more time driving in low light conditions, yet many are unaware of the special hazards night driving presents or don’t know effective ways to deal with them.

Statistics indicate that 60% of adults have driven while they were tired, and another 37% or 103 million people have fallen asleep at the wheel.

When you consider that 90% of a driver’s reaction depends on vision, and vision is severely limited at night, it is no surprise that the night driving accident rate is roughly three times that of daylight driving. The cause of the decreased vision varies. At night, the driver’s normally wide field of vision is narrowed to the field of view illuminated by your headlights, the headlights of other vehicles, and fixed road lights. Depth perception, color recognition, and peripheral vision are compromised at dawn and after sundown. 

Older drivers have difficulties seeing at night. A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year old. Issues that are affected by age are night vision and peripheral vision. As mentioned previously, 90% of the decisions made while driving are based on what we see.

According to an article that appeared in “Car and Travel,” Triple A’s magazine, at age 40 and above, a driver’s sensitivity to glare increases dramatically, and it will take much longer to adapt to changes in light. We suggest that driver over the age of 40 check their night vision if over age 55 check their peripheral vision. 

Adding to the problem, most drivers do not slow down significantly when driving at night, despite their reduced visibility. The reduced visibility can cause even the most cautious driver to overdrive their headlights.

A scenario

It’s night, and you’re driving with your low beam headlights on, which permit you to see about 150 feet or 46 meters ahead of you. If your speed is 40 MPH/64 KPH (approximately 60 FPS/18MPS.), you have 2.5 seconds’ worth of vision ahead of you. If there were an emergency waiting for you just beyond your range of vision, you would have 2.5 seconds of reaction time.

At 60 MPH/97KPH, you would have approximately 1.7 seconds of vision and reaction time. Having 2.5 seconds to react should be sufficient, exciting, but sufficient. When it gets down to 1.7 seconds, it will be all a matter of luck, and all this is assuming that your headlights are clean and working at maximum efficiency.

Suppose you consider that the average high beam headlight range is about 350 Feet/107 Meters. If you are moving at 60 mph/97 KPH, you are covering about 90 feet per second/ 27 Meters per second. The average attentive person’s reaction time is .75 to 1.50 seconds. A person’s reaction distance at 60 mph/97 KPH would be somewhere between 67.5 feet/21meters/ and 135 feet;/41 meters/ add braking distance to that, and the total is over 300 feet/92 Meters. Put this all together, and on low beams, if something is in your path anywhere within up to 300 feet/92 Meters (the length of a football field), you can’t stop in time to miss it. If you cannot steer around it, you’re doomed; this is called “out-driving your headlights.” 

One of the most dangerous aspects of night driving is one that we can do little to control: blinding glare from oncoming headlights. An immense amount of research has been conducted into the problems of glare and night vision, and all these studies have reached the same startling conclusion: When your eyes are hit by a bright beam of light from an oncoming car, you can’t see.

This type of attack impairs a significant amount of your vision. We can be completely blinded for one or two full seconds. This means that at just 40MPH/65KPH, you will drive 120 Feet/37 Meters without being able to see anything clearly.

Drivers can be affected by the oncoming glare of headlights as far as 3,000 Feet/914 Meters away. If you feel you won’t be able to see after a car approaching you has passed, slow down, and try not to look directly at those headlights. Looking at the right side of the road is often effective.

Bright colors and high contrast make objects visible at night. That’s why it’s a good idea to have some reflecting tape somewhere in your car, especially if the car is a dark color.


Security drivers and executive protection practitioners have a history of working long hours – hence we cannot separate driving at night from driving while fatigued.

Statistics indicate that 60% of adults have driven while they were tired, and another 37% or 103 million people have fallen asleep at the wheel.

These staggering numbers are backed up by a report by NHTSA that 100,000 police-reported crashes are a result of driver fatigue

Losing two hours of sleep has the same effect on driving as having three beers, and tired drivers are three times more likely to be in a car crash if they are fatigued.

The National Sleep Foundation offers this advice:

  • Get seven or more hours of sleep a night
  • Don’t drive if you’ve been awake for 16 hours or more


Adjust your speed to the range of your headlights. Understand the concept of overdriving your headlights and don’t drive faster than you can see

Good night visibility is more than just having a set of lights mounted on your vehicle. Equally important is the alignment of those lights. Ensure that your headlights are aligned properly.

It’s important as well to keep headlights clean. As much as half of a headlight’s total output can be absorbed by dirt on the light’s surface. Keeping headlights clean is especially important in winter when they’re frequently covered with road dirt and encrusted with salt.

Likewise, a clean windshield is vital for driving whether day or night. Streaks and smears on windshields can produce extremely disorienting kaleidoscopic effects when lights shine on them at night.

Ensure your windshield washers work, that your windshield wiper blades are clean and not old and worn out, and that the windshield wiper fluid container is kept filled.

Headlights cannot see around corners as they light only the path of travel that is dead ahead. When we do turn corners at night, we tend to follow the headlights around that corner. When you turn your car, scan the areas to the side and beyond the headlights.

When backing up, only your backup lights are available, and on most vehicle models, they aren’t much. There’s not much more you can do but cope with this reality.

Keep your eyes moving. Don’t fall for the temptation of focusing on the middle of the lighted area in front of you. Search the edges of the lighted area.

Look for other patches of light that could be cars. Look for them at hilltops, on curves, or at intersections.

Protect your eyes from glare. Prolonged exposure to glare from sunlight during the day or headlights at night can temporarily ruin your night vision, while also leading to eyestrain and drowsiness.

Wear good sunglasses on bright days and take them off as soon as the sun goes down.

As a side note, this may seem like a pain in the ass, but you need to know night driving sight distance numbers that are the difference between a security driver and a driver. 

Night driving training needs to be part of all protective driving programs you  cannot assume the bad things will happen during daylight

All protective driving programs must have a low light component.

That’s all for this week’s episode, I hope you will join us next week for another episode of the EPST podcast.

If you’ve enjoyed this EPST podcast episode, we invite you to check out the International Security Driver Association.  The ISDA is a valuable resource for all practitioners working in the protection profession. We offer benchmark educational, networking, and marketing programs. Access to the encyclopedia of executive protection and secure transportation – The ISDA knowledge center. The knowledge shared encompasses a wide range of EP and ST focused topics with resources, information, and metrics.

For more information on all of the member benefits head over to https://isdacenter.org.

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