How to drive safely on the shortest day of the year



December 21 is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and, for drivers, less is more – but not in a good way.

Fewer daylight hours on the winter solstice, and continually throughout winter, mean more nighttime driving and an overall increase in driving risk.

National Safety Council figures show vehicle death rates are three times higher at night than in the day, but there are ways to protect yourself and your vehicle. These tips will help you safely steer through the gloom.


  • Weather changes associated with nighttime may hamper driving. Shorter days can mean cold, frosty starts before the sun breaks through. Take time to de-ice your car before setting off and drive carefully when conditions are wet and cold.


  • As visibility is a major challenge when driving at night, clean front and rear windshields to reduce glare, as well as headlights, signal and brake lights.


  • Use low beams when following vehicles, meeting oncoming traffic and in fog. Turn on running lights an hour before dusk and keep them on for an hour after dawn.


  • Align lights properly so they’re not directed at oncoming traffic.


  • If glare from oncoming traffic is a problem, keep to the outside lane and use the road’s right edge as a guide.


  • Reduce speed and increase distance between you and the vehicle ahead. It’s harder to discern speed and distance at night and peripheral vision is worse.


  • Fatigue can set in at the end of the day, particularly on long journeys. If needed, take a 20-minute break for a nap, snack or even a walk.


  • If a breakdown occurs, pull completely off the road and turn on your blinking hazard lights. Keep yourself and passengers as far from the road as practical.


  • Take care in urban areas. Keep a lookout for pedestrians, particularly in school zones, who may be harder to see in the darker months.


  • Maneuvering can be difficult after dark when distances are harder to judge. Watch out when parking and turning in unlit areas.


  • The shortest day comes just days before the start of the holidays and, besides being one of the busiest periods of year to drive in the United States, Christmas and New Year are also among the most dangerous. If you have a long journey, try to plan ahead to minimize nighttime driving hours.


  • Do not drink and drive, and be extra vigilant for potential drunken drivers at night, particularly around the holidays.


  • Be mindful not to leave valuables in your vehicle at the parking lot when Christmas shopping after dark.


Stay safe and look on the bright side; there’s always a longest day too, on June 21, when daylight is plentiful.

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