Early Sunsets Require Different Driving Techniques


One of the things that follows the calendar change to November is earlier sunsets. Early dusk and dark require different driving techniques.

In the United States, the first weekend of November this year means that you should have turned your clocks back an hour. This means that while morning sunrises are later, sunsets are now earlier by one hour.

So, if, yesterday, the sun set at 5:07 pm, it will set at 4:07 pm.

Earlier dark, says the American Automobile Assn brings with it a different quality of light. Now, dusk seems longer and somewhat darker, while early mornings feature the reverse as the time before sunrise also seems darker. In the world of dusk, it is harder to see people walking in the road as the lighting is flat and there is little to help you distinguish between the background and foreground. This is complicated when there are children in the vicinity as their short outlines are even harder to see. If they are running, they become nearly impossible to slow down.

“Good visibility is an important safety issue,” a spokesman for AAA, John Paul of the New England office, notes. Visibility is especially necessary when driving in darker conditions, where contrast and headlight glare can impair your vision. “The contrast between the brightness of the sky and the dark pavement makes seeing other vehicles and pedestrians – and being seen by them – more difficult.”

This means, further, that when you drive into heavily residential neighborhoods where there are many children that your problems are compounded.

To handle these problems, use these tips:

• Slow down: If there is a child in the neighborhood who is out in the yard playing you can be certain that the child will, at one point or another, dart into the street. Since the child is so small and his outline is so tiny, it is almost impossible to see the little one easily. The solution is to slow down to allow yourself time to grab a view of the child. All it takes is slowing down as little as 5 mph and you have the time to see the child safely, even if the child darts out.

• Use the headlights: Always use the headlights at dusk and dawn because they make you more visible to other motors and pedestrians, even during daylight.

• Use caution on your regular routes: Use caution on east-west routes, as your vision can be compromised. Driving east into the rising sun in the morning limits your visibility as well as your ability to see out when the sun is in your eyes. Going east in the evening puts a reflection of the setting sun directly in your rearview; the reverse is true in the morning when you drive west. The west-east commute is the reverse.

• Cleanliness, cleanliness: Be sure to keep the headlights, windows and windshields clean and free from dirt and debris. Don’t forget the inside of the windshield, which can become coated with a film that clouds your vision. Make sure the wipers are working correctly and completely clean the windshield in one swipe.

Marc Stern has spent more than 40 years in and around cars. His work has included answering motorist questions, motor vehicle reviews and evaluation and writing dealers, consumer and industry news pieces. In addition, Mr. Stern has contributed to well-known automotive publications including Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek and Old Cars Weekly, among others.

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