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Drivers, beware of sun's glare
'The sun was in my eyes' is not an excuse, police say


Article re-printed from the "Des Moines Register" September 16, 2004
The "Des Moines Register" is hereby acknowledged for the content.
Copyright © 2004, The Des Moines Register.


In your eyes: That early-morning and late-afternoon sun can be blinding. 
Wear sunglasses and use your visor, police advise.

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 graphic.)

"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 motorists.

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 glare.

• 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.

Thousands of 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 before sunset.

"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.

Contact Info:

Ralph Bouwmeester, P. Eng.
R. Bouwmeester & Associates
Barrie, Ontario Canada
Phone: 1-705-726-3392

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