Visibility - why maintaining it is so important

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How many times have you seen a car with windows so full of soft toys and stickers, it’s a wonder the driver can see out at all?

And when was the last time you saw a car, even though the driver was doing everything they could to be invisible? Many drivers fail to switch on their lights when it’s dark or foggy because of laziness or forgetfulness; some incorrectly assume their fuel bills will be higher if they switch their lights on.

Visibility is as much about being seen, as it is about being able to see, which is why you need to keep your windows clean and clear – and why you also need to use your lights properly. 

Visibility is as much about being seen, as it is about being able to see

They allow other road users to see you and they also let you communicate with those around you. Every time you brake or use your indicators you’re telling everyone what you’re doing or planning to do. If those lights don’t work, you’re inviting trouble.

Problems are most frequent in the winter months, and modern cars can be the worst; they’re often designed so that something as simple as changing a bulb means a visit to a garage, bumping up costs.

Traffic cop Tim Bowles comments: “The most common scenario is at night on an urban road. A car will be driving along with no lights on, when a vehicle pulls out in front of them. I’ve known of deaths resulting – just because the driver has forgotten to flick a switch or they haven’t made sure their bulbs are working.”

Deal with: a damaged windscreen

Dirty or scratched windscreens account for over 150 crashes each year on British roads; half a dozen of those will be fatalities.

The law says “windscreens and windows must be kept clean and free from obstructions to vision”. Failing to clear windows properly could lead to a fixed penalty fine of up to £2500, three points or even disqualification.

Causing a fatal smash as a result of driving with dirty glass could result in a 14-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine. If your screen is damaged only lightly, it can be repaired for free, via your insurance – and it won’t count as a claim so you won’t lose your No Claims Bonus.

If the glass is badly damaged, the screen will need to be replaced – it can be done through your insurance, with just a small excess (usually just £50) to pay. Again, it won’t affect your NCB, so sort it out!

See the whole picture 

  • Get your eyes checked regularly by a qualified professional – you may be entitled to a free NHS eyesight check.

  • The law says drivers must be able to read a car number plate from 20 metres – If you need glasses or contact lenses to do this, they must be worn at all times when driving.

  • If you’re diagnosed with a condition which causes vision impairment, you must inform the DVLA. Failure to do so is a criminal offence.

  • If you have trouble with night vision or headlight glare, avoid driving in the dark. Some eyes take longer to react to changes in light, lengthening the recovery period after facing dazzling headlights.

  • Don’t look directly at oncoming lights – look past them on your side of the road, so they’re in your peripheral vision.

  • Maximise your view by keeping headlights, mirrors, and windscreens (inside and out) clean.

  • Your vision suffers when you’re tired – so if you have the option, try to avoid driving then.