Driving in the dark brings added dangers – and for a taxi driver, there are even more hazards than the average motorist. Not only do you have to think about dangers on the road, there are the unpredictable customers you must factor in, too.
Just how great are the dangers of driving at night?
Well, according to a survey by ROSPA, four in 10 collisions occur in the hours of darkness.
Although you’d be right to point out that must mean 60% of collisions take place during daylight hours, remember there are fewer cars on the road at night, so, in theory, there should be significantly fewer incidents.
But the reduced visibility and increased difficulty in judging speed and distance mean the number of collisions is disproportionate at night.
Meanwhile, of all serious accidents on motorways and monotonous roads in the UK, one in five are caused by a driver falling asleep behind the wheel.
So, you’ve always got to be on high alert, minimising your risk.
Staying out of trouble is not only important for safety reasons, it reduces the likelihood of having to claim on your taxi insurance – saving you money and preserving any no-claims bonus you might’ve built up.
In this article, we’ll cover how to drive safely at night, alongside some specific tips for taxi drivers with troublesome passengers in mind.
First, some driving-at-night tips that all drivers would do well to listen to…
As a taxi driver, no doubt you’ll know this already, but it’s illegal to drive at night without fully functioning front and rear lights.
So, it’s crucial that you do a quick check every evening before leaving your driveway or office to make sure they’re all in full working order.
If you do discover a bulb out – or perhaps it’s dimmed or flickering – then head straight to a garage and swap it out. Failure to do so could see you being stopped by the police.
With a full set of working lights, you also need to consider how you use them.
Most of the advice suggests turning dipped headlights on around about an hour before sunset, keeping them on until an hour after sunrise.
That way there’s no way anybody can say you weren’t visible if you were to be involved in a collision with another road user.
Full beam should only be deployed on unlit country roads to provide you with greater visibility of the road in front of you.
If you encounter another vehicle, you should switch them back to a dipped beam straight away so that you don’t dazzle them.
As much as you don’t want to dazzle other drivers, nor do you want to be dazzled. So, when a vehicle is approaching you, avert your eyes away from their headlights and focus on the road ahead.
This might sound like an obvious thing to do, but it’s almost human instinct to have a quick look at other cars and drivers as they come towards you.
So, make a concerted effort to ensure you don’t, or you could find the glare from their headlights temporarily impairs your vision.
If you do end up with impaired vision due to the glare from a set of headlights – perhaps the other driver didn’t dip their lights in time – then slow down to a stop and safely pull the car off the road, allowing your eyes to recover.
Don’t pull away again until your vision has returned to normal.
What might look like a reasonably clean windscreen during the day can look filthy during the night under lights. So, it’s crucial that you get rid of that bird mess and those dead flies before you do a night shift.
In the winter, however, it’s snow, ice and condensation that are your windscreen’s biggest enemies. Sometimes you will turn the engine on, and all seems fine, but as soon as you drive 100 yards, you start to steam up.
So, when it’s cold, leave it a few minutes to see if any mist creeps up your windscreen – if it does, wait for it to clear before pulling away.
In the evenings, it’s more difficult to spot vulnerable road users such as children and the elderly waiting at zebra crossings.
Luckily, as a taxi driver, you’ll know where all the crossings are, so you can keep an eye out for them, slowing down accordingly to check if anybody is waiting to cross.
We all know how quickly it can get dark in the winter, so take extra care when driving around schools and in residential areas when kids and elderly people are still likely to be out.
Cyclists can be hard to spot in the dark, too, especially if they’re not wearing reflective clothing. And beware of animals darting out of nowhere, particularly on country roads.
When was the last time you had your eyes tested? If you’re struggling to remember, it’s probably a good time to book an appointment at the opticians to see if you need glasses or a new pair of glasses with an updated prescription.
As a taxi driver, you’ll be driving as daytime turns into night – a tricky part of the day that asks a lot of your eyes to adjust to the reducing light levels.
If you’re noticing that you’re struggling to read traffic signs or the registration plate of the car in front of you, take it as a sign that your eyes are not working as well as they should and you may need a pair of spectacles to compensate for this.
You may be advised to buy a pair of so-called night driving glasses, in addition to regular spectacles, but there’s little scientific proof to suggest they’re effective – in fact, quite the opposite: the yellow tint can actually reduce visibility.
Our advice would be to do your research before buying. Anti-reflection coating, on the other hand, which can be applied on your lenses, can help to reduce glare.
Sometimes as a taxi driver it can be hard to acknowledge that you're tired as that means calling it a day and not earning any more money from the shift.
But, it’s crucial for your own safety, and that of others, that you do know when it’s time to call it a night.
At the very least, when you start to feel a bit sleepy or heavy eyed, take a break and have a coffee. If that doesn’t work, then head for home and don’t worry about the income that you might be missing out on.
Remember that stat we highlighted at the start of the article...
Perhaps the best thing you can do to minimise your risk of a night-time collision is to reduce your speed and increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front.
During the day, you might be able to see what’s going on in front of the car in front – but when it gets dark, that extended visibility won’t be there.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) recommends allowing at least two seconds from the vehicle in front, and at least double this in bad conditions/at night.
So, take your foot off the accelerator and increase your distance. It also shows your passengers that you’re a conscientious driver who puts safety first – no bad thing at all.
The idea of breaking down at night time is not one you’d like to think about too much – not only does it leave you stranded, there’s the loss of income to consider, too.
But these things can happen – sometimes through no fault of your own. Of course, you should ensure that you carry out maintenance checks on your taxi to minimise the chance of a breakdown, but sometimes that’s not even enough.
If you were to find yourself at the roadside with an unresponsive vehicle, you’d at least want to have the essentials: a torch (ideally a head torch to free up your hands), a blanket, some warm clothing (for you and any passengers) and a car emergency kit.
If you do break down, look for a safe and well-lit place to stop and turn your hazard lights on until help arrives.
Now we move on to some taxi driver-specific tips, with troublesome evening passengers in mind.
In the past, if you were to end up involved in an accident at night, it would be your word against the other driver’s – unless of course there was a witness.
However, times have changed. Dash cams now exist which record footage of accidents and incidents, to give insurers the full picture.
How many taxi drivers out there have had somebody just randomly run in front of their vehicle during the evening?
There have even been cases of members of the public throwing themselves onto the bonnet of a stationary or slow-moving taxi, then claiming they have sustained injuries. With a dash cam, such claims can be disproved easily.
As well as a camera filming what’s going on on the road in front of you, you should consider investing in a CCTV system to record the actions of your passengers in your vehicle.
Having a CCTV system installed has been shown to reduce threats of violence, by making passengers think twice about their behaviour.
Theft is often opportunistic. If a passenger clocks that you are carrying a large amount of cash, they might see an opportunity to steal it. At night, that risk is greater as it’s quieter, with fewer witnesses.
So, if it’s possible and not too inconvenient, you should drop large amounts of cash off during your shift to a safe and secure place.
If that’s going to prove to be too much of a hassle, the next best thing is a secure box in the taxi, which ensures cash is hidden out of the sight of an opportunist.
If you were to ask what the most common source of dispute between a passenger and a driver, we’d probably say the fare.
For some passengers, it can be difficult for them to understand why they’re having to pay more for a taxi during unsociable hours (alcohol might have something to do with momentary loss of common sense).
So, agreeing the fare before you set off can reduce the risks of violence over a fare dispute later, when you may be in an isolated place.
If you can’t agree on a fare or the passenger is being abrupt, you are well within your rights to refuse the job.
Despite your best efforts to minimise the potential for conflict, you could still find yourself threatened or attacked. Although it can often be easier said than done, try to stay calm and don’t rise to the bait.
Instead of losing your temper, encourage the passenger out of the vehicle and simply drive off, even if this means losing out on the fare.
It’s better to be safe than sorry – you don’t know what the passenger is capable of.
If your taxi was to be badly damaged by a passenger or you were to be involved in an incident with another vehicle, you want to ensure that you can restore it back to full health as quickly as possible – taxi insurance helps you to do this.
Here at Taxi Insurer, we can help you find a taxi insurance policy that suits your needs and we can work out a payment plan to make your payments manageable alongside all the other business expenses.
Benefits of arranging taxi insurance through Taxi Insurer can include:
With Comprehensive, Third Party Fire & Theft, and Third party only cover available, get a quick quote for taxi insurance today.
Call our friendly team with your registration number and driving licence and find the cover that’s right for you.