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Scared of driving in the dark? Blame your cavemen ancestorsBack

If night-time driving fills you with dread, you are not alone.

According to experts, night fears, or nyctophobia, affects most people and can be traced back to our cave-dwelling ancestors who were more at risk of being attacked in the dark.

In a new poll commissioned by Ford, 81 per cent of drivers across Europe admit to being scared on the roads at night, rising to 87 per cent for women. More than half say poor night vision is a source of stress, and more than a third worry they might be involved in an accident. Fears that they may hit a pedestrian were highlighted by one in five drivers surveyed.

New technology

Ford has come up with a solution that goes beyond simply eating more carrots. The company is, for the first time, introducing new technology that is designed to detect pedestrians at night and then automatically apply the brakes if the driver does not respond to initial warnings.

“We know some drivers find hitting the road at night a stressful experience. Especially driving in towns and cities, pedestrians, sometimes distracted by mobiles, can without warning step into the road, leaving even alert drivers very little time to avoid an accident,” said Gregor Allexi, active safety engineer at Ford of Europe.

“Day and night, pedestrian detection is designed to help identify people already in – or about to step into – the road ahead.”

In 2015 there were 408 pedestrian fatalities in the UK, which accounts for 24 per cent of road fatalities that year. Of these deaths, 48 per cent occurred between 6pm and 6am.

The development team at Ford worked at night, sending life-sized dummies into the path of vehicles on closed tracks, and testing the system on public roads in busy cities including Paris and Amsterdam.

How it works

Pedestrian detection processes information from a radar located in the bumper, and a windshield‑mounted camera, while a database of ‘pedestrian shapes’ enables the system to distinguish people from objects such as trees and road signs.

The camera delivers more than 30 snapshots every second – faster than a cinema projector. The video live-feed and wide viewing angle enables the system to pick out pedestrians, even in low-light conditions, illuminated only by the headlights.

If the system detects an imminent collision with a pedestrian, it first provides audible and visual warnings to the driver.

Should the driver not respond, the system automatically applies the brakes. Later this year, the more advanced pedestrian detection technology will be introduced on the next generation Fiesta.

With the advent of self-driving cars, travelling at night should, in theory, become easier. Last year, a Ford Fusion hybrid autonomous research vehicle, with no headlights, drove in pitch black at the Ford Arizona proving ground, as part of the company’s journey to delivering fully autonomous vehicles to customers around the globe.

In the meantime, here are some tips for driving at night:

  • Ensure windows and mirrors are clean and free of ice and condensation
  • Clean all exterior lights and check they work, keep spare bulbs in the car
  • On unlit roads, put headlights on full beam and dip them on seeing oncoming vehicles
  • Don’t drive tired or for more than two hours without a break
  • Schedule regular optician appointments to check your vision

Posted by Beth Rose on 16/03/2017