of sun's glare
'The sun was in my eyes' is not an
excuse, police say
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
RODNEY WHITE/THE REGISTER
In your eyes: That early-morning and
late-afternoon sun can be blinding.
Wear sunglasses and use your visor,
Turn a corner and it blinds
you. Top a hill and it's worse.
Ignore precautions and it could kill you.
This is the time of year when the sun's glare is particularly dangerous
for drivers and pedestrians. (See
"For two or three weeks
before and after September 4 and April 6, the early-morning and
late-afternoon sun is lining up closely with Iowa's east-west
streets," said Ralph Bouwmeester, a Canadian safety consultant and
recognized expert on sun, shadows and the optical tricks they play on
Des Moines lawyer Sam Waters is also an expert on road glare. He learned
the hard way.
"Our accident occurred December 26, 1999," he said, describing a
sunny Sunday morning walk in Beaverdale with his wife, Elizabeth.
A driver, blinded by the sun, struck the couple.
"I flew onto the hood and did a somersault in the air and ended up 35
feet away," Waters said. "My wife hit the windshield, but didn't
go very far."
Both had knee surgery and have since recovered.
Theirs was far from an isolated incident:
• Sept. 9, 2003: Authorities said glare might have been a factor in a
crash north of Des Moines that killed a Pleasant Hill man.
• Aug. 27, 2003: Two people on a motorcycle died on the city's east side
in a collision with an oncoming van whose driver blamed early-morning
• Sept. 15, 2000: A 13-year-old boy was struck by a car but escaped
serious injury on his way to school. The driver said the sun made it
impossible to see the teen.
• Sept. 15, 1999: A truck loaded with jet fuel veered off Interstate
Highway 80 west of Des Moines. The driver blamed the sun.
• Sept. 10, 1997: Authorities blamed a blinding rush-hour sun for two
traffic accidents that injured an 11-year-old girl and the police officer
sent to investigate.
• Sept. 16, 1993 : The sun was listed on reports as a contributing
factor in several accidents, including a car-pedestrian accident that
killed a Windsor Heights woman.
accidents each year are blamed on road glare. The National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration attributed 168 deaths to blinded drivers in 2002,
the lowest total in four years.
The problem is the autumnal equinox. The 23-degree tilt of Earth's axis
places the sun on the horizon for eastbound traffic during morning rush
hour. The tilt is what creates the seasons.
It also can create highway havoc.
"A major insurance company sponsored a study a few years ago that
attributed this to driver fatigue resulting from the affect of the time
change on the body clock," Bouwmeester said. "I would suggest
that the cause may be linked to the fact that the sun appears lower on
one's drive home from work."
The problem is at its worst the first hour after sunrise and the last hour
"The sun was in my eyes" is no excuse for an accident, said Des
Moines Police Sgt. David Coy.
"Wear sunglasses, use your visor, delay your trip until the sun is
higher in the sky," he said.
That means put down the cell phone and leave the radio dial where it is.
"Get all of that out of the way before you start driving, because you
may need one hand to block the sun while you keep the other on the
wheel," Coy said.
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