Shedding light on sun glare
By Gordon Dickson
Dallas Fort Worth Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Article re-printed from the "Dallas Fort Worth Star Telegram" September 15, 2003
The "Star Telegram" is hereby acknowledged for the content.
© 2003 Star Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
This time of year, the sun is rising directly to the east, and setting directly to the west. As a result, motorists who use east-west roads such as Interstate 20, Interstate 30 and Texas 183 are probably doing a lot of squinting.
Sun glare may be more of a factor in motor vehicle crashes than many people realize. It's a problem that becomes more pronounced in the fall and winter, when the days are shorter and the sun is setting during afternoon drive time.
Many police departments keep close track of other conditions -- rain, ice, snow and even darkness -- when filling out accident reports. But few keep track of glare.
Ralph Bouwmeester, a civil engineer who lives in Barrie, Ontario, says he has testified in dozens of court cases in which glare was cited as a factor in a fatal crash.
Bouwmeester, who says he has had a lifelong passion for sundials, has carved an interesting career niche.
He has developed a computer program that precisely tracks the path of the sun and its rays in just about any situation.
Lawyers often call upon his expertise to re-create light conditions in traffic accidents.
Using the program, Bouwmeester can build a computer model that takes into account weather conditions, smog and shadows cast by trees and buildings.
Glare seems to bother motorists more in late March, late September and when communities change to or from daylight savings time, he says.
"A disproportionate number of accidents occur after the switch back to standard time in the fall," he says. "There was an insurance company that did a study about it, and they were attributing it to the body clock and people being tired. Personally, I'm wondering if it's better attributed to the sun's changing position on the drive home. You come around a corner at 60 mph every day for two weeks without a problem. Now, all of a sudden, you're coming out of work with an hour's difference. All of a sudden, there's the sun and you weren't expecting it."
Sunlight doesn't have to be shining directly into your windshield to cause problems, Bouwmeester says.
"It can bounce off other cars, the asphalt on the road and even the dashboard," he says.
The Bush administration has proposed that the amount of federal money spent on highway safety be more than doubled to $7.5 billion over the next six years.
For several decades, exhaustive research has been conducted on how roads can be engineered better.
But only in recent years have researchers focused more of their attention on driver behaviors and distractions.
Here's betting that in the next few years more light will be shed on the dangers of sun glare.
Ralph Bouwmeester, P. Eng.
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