from ABC News program "20/20"
aired March 22, 1999
S U M M A R Y
Monday, March 22, 1999
CHARLES GIBSON Right now, weíre going to put you in the driverís seat of a car under some surprisingly hazardous conditions. Surprising, because these conditions have nothing to do with maneuvering through rain, sleet or snow. It turns out that on a bright, sunny day or a clear, starry night, you can still face danger behind the wheel. Michael Guillen looked into some of the unexpected reasons why. Heís also found a number of ways you can reduce the danger. They could save your life or someone elseís.
MICHAEL GUILLEN, ABCNEWS (VO) We all know itís dangerous driving in the fog and rain. But even when the weather is picture-perfect, as the sun rises, moves across the sky and then sets, many drivers are suddenly discovering that theyíre driving blind either because thereís too little sunshine or too much.
DOREEN CICCONE Oh, it was a beautiful day, crystal clear. I was just driving normal, thought I could see everything well.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) One day last spring, Doreen Ciccone was driving down Lancaster Street in Leominster (ph), Massachusetts, when all of a sudden ...
DOREEN CICCONE I heard a thump. And when I looked in my rear-view mirror, I saw somebody on the ground.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) Doreen had hit and killed an elderly woman who was crossing the street. Doreen never saw her coming.
DOREEN CICCONE They say that it was sun glare. I had no vision of seeing anybody. But yet, somebody was there. I guess I blame myself every day still for it.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) No one keeps precise numbers, but police say blinding glare like this is a lot more common and deadly than most people realize. Officer Michael Thomann (ph) investigated Doreenís accident.
MICHAEL THOMANN, POLICE OFFICER Iíve seen it at least a half dozen times in my career on the job where somebody has actually died as a result of the accident. You canít even count the number of accidents as a result of sun glare.
(VO) Itís a familiar story. In California, a bus
driver with sun in his eyes hits and kills a little girl.
In New Jersey, a man blinded by the sun drives smack into
an oncoming train. And in New York, glare is blamed when
a truck driver accidentally hits a woman crossing the
street. In fact, some cities are so worried, theyíre
putting up new warning signs like this.
CLARENCE DITLOW (PH), CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY Veiling glare is something that a lot of consumers encounter, but until theyíre told what it is, they donít realize it.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) Clarence Ditlow is the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. Lately, he says, automakers have unwittingly done two things to make veiling glare worse. First, those sleek new windshields that look so nice? Well, they are aerodynamic and they make cars more fuel efficient, but they can be trouble. The problem is that when you tilt the windshield, the underlying dashboard naturally gets bigger and, therefore, becomes more reflective. The second problem is color.
CLARENCE DITLOW We have the auto manufacturers going to lighter colored dashes to match the color of the upholstery in the interior.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) And when you make the dashboard light colored, you make it even more reflective. For example, take a look through this windshield. Notice anything unusual? Probably not. But watch what happens when we put black felt on top of the light-colored dash. Suddenly you can see a child you couldnít see before. She was hidden by veiling glare. Look at that again ó without the black cloth and with.
CLARENCE DITLOW If youíre buying a new car today, particularly one that has a windshield that slopes back, avoid ones with light-colored dashes.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) Other tips? Well, avoid those popular vinyl cleaners that give your dash a high-gloss finish. Looks great, but they turn your dash into a mirror. And finally, to fight glare of all kinds, wear sunglasses made with polarized lenses. As you can see, ordinary lenses are not designed to cut through glare. Polarized lenses are. But the sun isnít the only thing that can affect your vision. As it moves across the sky and begins to set, the problem of too much sunshine gives way to the hazards of not enough. Bob Daras (ph) of Commerce Township, Michigan, knows all too well the horrors of driving blind on a crystal clear night.
BOB DARAS I was in the right-hand lane. And we were going to the expressway, 696.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) It happened last fall, just after sundown, when Bob and Deborah, his high school sweetheart and wife of 28 years, were going out for the evening.
BOB DARAS Next thing I knew, the windshield exploded in my face.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) As he frantically pulled over to the side of the road, Bob suddenly realized he had hit a deer crossing the street in the dark.
BOB DARAS I didnít even know it was deer until it hit me in the face.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) But the worst part came when Bob turned to his wife.
BOB DARAS I said, ďHoney, are you OK?Ē And I seen something I canít ever forget, because her face was tore like real bad.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) A day and a half after the accident, Deborah died from her injuries.
BOB DARAS She was everything to me. She was my best buddy. And I miss her. I really miss her a lot.
(VO) Bobís story is all too painfully common.
Statistically, driving in the dark is three times
deadlier than driving in broad daylight ó three
times. And no wonder. Our eyes were not designed to see
in the night, certainly never meant to be watching for
hazards while barreling down a darkened road at 50 miles
per hour. And it only gets worse with age. As our eyes
become less sensitive to light, we become more night
ED ZELLNER, CADILLAC CHIEF ENGINEER Imagine it just as a rear view mirror. The rear view mirror is also additional information that you need to drive. You glance at it occasionally. This is the same kind of a thing.
(VO) To put the system to the test , I was allowed to
drive through an obstacle course set up along a very dark
country road. With my regular view, I see nothing but
darkness. But the night vision camera has spotted a
problem up ahead.
BOB DARAS I never had a warning, nothing. Iím always trying to figure out where that deer came from, you know?
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) The night vision system has come too late to save Bobís wife. But heís heartened by the thought of anything that might help others steer away from the dangers that lurk in the dark.
CONNIE CHUNG Cadillac says its night vision system will cost around $2,000. Other car makers may offer a similar option in the near future. Meanwhile, itís worth remembering that driving slowly at night helps, and keep your windshield clean, day or night.
Bouwmeester, P. Eng.
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