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Driving at night: Avoid fines, ensure safety

Many trucks drive at night to guarantee deliveries of supplies. Functioning lights, brakes and choosing the right route are important to get to your destination safely - and without risking fines. All drivers will benefit from these suggestions.

Driving at night is exhausting, because:

  • Concentration drops even faster than in daylight.
  • Poor visibility in darkness and rain makes driving more difficult.
  • Incorrectly adjusted or defective lights are dangerous.
  • If you find yourself tired at the wheel, you are not fit to drive and must take a break.

To ensure that the roads are safe at night, special rules apply to driving a truck.

Are trucks allowed to drive at night?

At night, reserved parking spaces for trucks, for example along highways, are usually well occupied: The trucks are parked close together. But some of them roll. Are they allowed to do that? The following rules apply:

  • There is no general ban on nighttime driving in Germany.
  • But there are restrictions: Whether trucks are allowed to drive depends on their gross vehicle weight, the day of the week or the road they use.
  • German federal states can set up rules for individual sections of the road. The primary aim of the restrictions is to protect residents from noise and exhaust fumes. This is because, since the introduction of toll charges on German autobahns in 2005, many truck drivers have been choosing the cost-free routes over federal and country roads.

Fines are due for violations of night driving bans

According to German law

  • Trucks under 7.5 tons gross vehicle weight and without a trailer may drive at any time of day
  • Trucks over 7.5 tons gross vehicle weight or with trailers are prohibited from driving on all roads in Germany on Sundays and public holidays from midnight to 10:00 p.m.

Trucks are not permitted to transport goods for business purposes or for payment, or to drive empty, as per § 30 of the German Road Traffic Act. Drivers ignoring the rules can face fines:

  • The truck driver pays 120 euros, the truck owner 570 euros.
  • If the owner and driver are identical, the fine remains at 570 euros.
  • There are no penalty points added to the driver’s license.
Heavy trucks are also allowed to transport perishable food at night and on public holidays.
Heavy trucks are allowed to transport fresh and perishable food at night and on public holidays. The corona pandemic also made exceptions to driving bans possible.

Night driving bans apply on German state and federal roads

To protect residents from noise and exhaust fumes, in particular, many state and federal roads in Germany are subject to daily night-time driving bans – often for trucks weighing as little as 3.5 tons.

  • To ensure residents a restful night, road noise must be reduced between 10:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m.
  • Some sections of the autobahns can then also be placed off-limits for trucks.
  • Individual German federal states decide independently which roads are affected. - Anyone violating a ban risks a fine of 75 euros and a penalty point in their driver’s license.

9 Tips: How to drive safely at night

  • Clean all windows before you start, as streaks and dirt obstruct vision and increase glare.
  • Also clean your eyeglass lenses.
  • Check that the windshield wipers and headlights are intact and that the wiper water is topped up.
  • A higher seating position is especially important when driving in the dark, as it can reduce glare from oncoming traffic. Normally, headlights are adjusted so that they do not dazzle oncoming vehicles. However, when driving over bumps, the light cone can move upwards for a short time and flash. If you sit higher, this probability decreases.
  • Maintain a greater safety length than during daylight, since it is easy to misinterpret distances in the dark.
  • Be especially careful when it rains. Beware of aquaplaning!
  • Take more rather than fewer breaks. For professional drivers, regulations govern rest breaks and driving times. Making a stop every two hours, sleeping briefly, and physically moving around helps to keep you fit.
  • If you drive a van or truck, check before you begin driving to see if there are any night-time driving bans on your route.
  • Have your eyesight checked regularly, including your night-vision. This is especially important if you are over 50 years old.

Intact lights prevent accidents

Anyone who is out on the road at night must have both good vision and be seen well. However, there are still major deficiencies in the lighting of trucks, vans, and buses. Around one in three vehicles proved defective during the German Light Test 2020. The Light Test is a free campaign offered annually in October by the Deutsche Verkehrswacht (German Road Safety Agency) and the Zentralverband Deutsches Kraftfahrzeuggewerbe (Central Association of the German Motor Trade). Millions of vehicle owners and drivers use it. Here are their latest findings:

  • More than one in every five trucks tested had problems with its headlights.
  • Almost one in ten dazzled oncoming traffic because the headlight settings were too high.
  • In over four percent of the vehicles, one main headlight had failed completely.
  • In 9.9 percent, a rear light was defective, as were
  • 4.2 percent of brake lights.

In 2020, 5,000 defect reports were included in official statistics. Since trucks restrict the visibility of following travelers, road safety authorities consider functioning tail and brake lights to be particularly important for preventing rear-end collisions. It is no coincidence that "failure to comply with lighting regulations" is listed as a misconduct in the catalog of accident causes. The fine for improper lighting is at least 20 euros.

Trucks often dazzle oncoming traffic – because of improperly adjusted lights.
Glaring, wrongly adjusted lights, defective rear lights: These are common problems when driving at night.

A good view is good protection

If drivers can see well, they are better able to recognize dangers and react more quickly to avoid them. For this reason:

  • You should have your vision tested regularly.
  • Drivers applying for commercial licenses in the classes C1, C1E, C, CE, D1, D1E, D or DE must also submit an approval from an authorized eye doctor.
  • These driver’s licenses are valid for five years. Bus and truck drivers wishing to extend them are required to undergo renewed tests carried out by a medically certified eye doctor, not an optician.
At night drivers must avoid creating unnecessary glaring effects by keeping their windshields and windows clean.
Everyone driving at night should have a clear view of the road – and this goes for personal eyeglasses as well as vehicle windows.

Glasses for night driving: A controversial extra

Many drivers find themselves blinded by oncoming traffic in the dark. To counteract such effects, so-called night-vision eyeglasses have been available for several years. They filter out the bluish light that causes a particularly strong glare. However, the benefits are controversial. Therefore, such glasses should only be used after consulting an eye doctor.

By the way: If the code number 01 is entered in your driving license, eyeglasses must always be worn when driving. If 05.01 is entered, the driver may only drive in daylight, i.e. from one hour after sunrise until one hour before sunset.

Driving at night requires frequent breaks

Especially at night, no one who is behind the wheel should do without breaks. The most important tips:

  • Take a break at least every two hours.
  • That means: Exit the roadway to a parking lot and take a power nap.
  • Physical exercise in the fresh air is also invigorating.

Actual driving time is only a part of the working time of professional drivers. It also includes loading, unloading and monitoring, cleaning, and maintaining the vehicle, and dealing with legal formalities. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, they, like all employees, are entitled to a break of at least 30 minutes after six hours of work. If they are behind the wheel, the following applies:

  • Truck drivers must take a break for at least 45 minutes after 4.5 hours of driving, at the latest.
  • If they have completed nine hours of driving time, they must take nine hours rest.

Here are five Don´ts if you are driving at night

  • Do not start driving if you are tired or stressed.
  • Do not rely on the effects of coffee, cola, or energy drinks. These only increase attention for a short time, and after that the tiredness is usually stronger than before. It is better to hydrate yourself with water, juices, or tea.
  • Your passenger should remain awake. Conversations keep attention high. This also applies to listening to the radio: Singing along is welcome!
  • Do not eat too much fatty food, too much, or too fast during breaks.
  • Do not turn the heat up too high. Cool temperatures and lots of oxygen are better.
Drinking coffee while driving does not help against tiredness. If you drive at night, you should take a break more often than during the day.
Coffee does not replace breaks. People who drive at night should stop and pause more often than during the day.

Assistance systems prevent accidents, even at night

Many modern vehicles aid drivers with assistance systems. These have proven to help prevent accidents or at least reduce serious injuries. Automobile clubs such as Germany’s ADAC even consider it reasonable to make many such systems mandatory. This applies in particular to the following assistance systems:

  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) regulates the set speed, the distance to the vehicle in front and helps to prevent rear-end collisions. The latest ACC+ brakes to a standstill and controls stop & go in traffic jams.
  • The automatic emergency braking system (AEBS) initiates braking to prevent or mitigate a collision.
  • Lane Keeping Assistant (LKA) is activated when the vehicle drifts to the side or is about to leave a traffic lane and a collision is imminent. In the opinion of the ADAC, they are better than lane departure warning systems that do not counteract independently.
  • Overtaking assistants can monitor and support a complete passing maneuver.
  • The high beam assistant significantly increases safety. If the road is better illuminated, the driver can recognize dangers more quickly. For newer generations of vehicles, dynamic high-beam assistants already exist that automatically activate the light settings to prevent oncoming traffic from being dazzled.
  • Cruise controls help the driver to maintain speeds more effectively. In newer models, these speed limiters are combined with traffic license plate recognition.
  • The emergency stop light (Emergency stop signal) indicates to following travelers that the vehicle in front of them is braking more slowly than the traffic situation might require.
  • Driver drowsiness and attention warning systems analyze the vehicle's road responses and warn the driver if necessary. ADAC sees a lot of potential in this system but says there is still too little information concerning aspects of data protection.

Truck driving bans: There are exceptions, even in the corona pandemic

Trucks weighing more than 7.5 tons must always be parked from midnight until 10:00 p.m. on Sundays and public holidays. But there are exceptions: On Sundays and public holidays, sensitive goods or urgently needed products may also be transported by trucks over 7.5 tons if an exemption is granted. Such products are usually:

  • fresh food, such as milk, meat, and fish and
  • easily perishable fruit and vegetables.

Exceptions, regardless of the goods transported, have been and still are made for large trucks during the corona pandemic. You can look up new regulations and current information here: Bundesamt für Güterverkehr and ADAC.

By the way: The ban on driving on Sundays and public holidays does not apply to mobile homes or campers driving on vacation.

Driving at night: Advantages and disadvantages, tips and driving bans

Staying safe on the road

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