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Road Warrior:
Seasonal blind spots easily turn deadly

By John Cichowski
Record Columnist | THE RECORD

Article re-printed from the "The Record" September 20, 2015.
The Record"  (www.northjersey.com) is hereby acknowledged for the content.
© 2015 All Rights Reserved. North Jersey Media Group

How ugly can sun glare get as autumn approaches?

"Just backing out of my driveway renders me blind," complained Hawthorne's Ken Ross. "Cars coming up behind me on Utter Avenue usually drive waaaay too fast!"

Clifton crossing guard Paula Kurtz said the glare is so severe on her West 2nd Street and 6th Avenue corner that "sometimes I can't see my kids" across the street. "I tell children to wait until I can focus and make sure no cars are coming before I cross them."

Crossing guards probably have it worse than any of us. Just last week, Jo Ann Hans was severely injured at the New Bridge Road crosswalk near Westminster Avenue in Bergenfield while ushering worshipers to Congregation Beth Abraham. Police listed sun glare as a contributing factor in the accident. Sun glare also contributed to the 2012 death of Little Ferry crossing guard Joseph Dotterman, who was helping a 70-year-old cross Mehrhof Road. It was a factor, too, in the critical injuries sustained by Cresskill crossing guard Ned Visich in 2012.

Besides crossing guards, Sol is given at least partial blame for serious North Jersey pedestrian crashes involving joggers, shoppers, schoolchildren and at least one trash collector: Ronald Fisher, who was killed on Godwin Avenue in Ridgewood in 1995.

Glare is believed to have played a role, too, in the death of Robert Carroll, killed crossing Essex Street in Hackensack near his Leigh Street apartment in 2011. It was blamed for injuries sustained by a woman and her 2-year-old granddaughter in the parking lot of a a Walmart in Riverdale in 2009 and two 12-year-olds on their way to middle school in New Milford.

Although federal highway safety authorities don't keep track of sun-glare deaths, some estimates place the national figure at more than 200. These crashes start to pick up in September when the sun rises almost exactly east and sets almost exactly west, so the sun is low enough at the horizon to zap drivers directly in the eyes. It happens again in early spring. But predicting exactly where and when Sol will blind you can be tricky. Anomalies abound.

Reverse glare

While going east to the George Washington Bridge in the afternoon, for example, motorists sometimes face reverse glare from The Modern, the high-rise glass residential tower recently built in Fort Lee, which bounces the rays into their eyes as the sun sets. The Modern is not the only example of danger for motorists driving away from the sun.

"The glare in front of you can wash out the brake lights of the car ahead of you," explained Ralph Bauwmeester [sic], an engineer whose Ontario consultancy advises police, lawyers, accident reconstructionists and motorists about sun-glare issues at sunposition.com.

Drivers can't always count on sound walls to protect them from the sun either. Some motorists complain about glare coming through the clear, acrylic panels at the top of the walls on Route 3 in Lyndhurst.

Here are more North Jersey locations that often draw sun-glare complaints:

  • Going from Paramus Road in Paramus to reach Route 4, called Broadway, is "almost impossible without sun glare because of constant traffic flow," said Ridgewood's Arlene Murphy. "But with sun glare starting around 7:30 in the morning, I literally cannot see anything."
  • Eastbound on Passaic Street approaching Burton Avenue in Hasbrouck Heights "requires looking directly into the sun as you reach the crosswalk at the crest of the hill," said Jeanette DeGennaro. "If you combine this with distracted driving, it's a recipe for accidents and worse."
  • On Cedar Lane eastbound in Teaneck around 7 a.m., "I can block the sun with my left arm, but even worse is the glare bouncing off the shop windows on my right," said Dave Boesch.
  • Beech Street near Hackensack High School is the place where blinding glare prompted David Beyer to quickly turn right onto Comet Way. It's also the place where a cop gave him a ticket for going the wrong way on Comet, a one-way street.
  • Glare can be found almost anywhere on Route 80, said Conrad Macina of Mount Arlington, especially near Route 15 in the afternoon.
  • Eastbound on Clinton Avenue in Bergenfield near the middle school is Patricia DiLorenzo's scariest place to drive. Glare caused her car to be hit from the rear there. "I was taken away by ambulance, but not seriously hurt," reported the Maywood reader.
  • While heading west out of Liberty State Park in Jersey City just before sunset to the New Jersey Turnpike, the sun is so strong that it makes searching for an exit nearly impossible, said Pat Kinney.

"What can a driver do?" asked the Leonia reader.

Here are some tips from Bauwmeester [sic] and others:

"Put your visor down and have your Polarized sunglasses within reach," said the Canadian expert. "Don't keep other stuff attached to your visor, because it's likely that you won't use it when you need it because you'll be afraid it'll fall in your lap."

Conrad Macina thinks he knows why many male motorists don't use visors.

"They think they're effeminate," he observed. "They're not. They help. I'd rather be thought of as a girly-girl than deadly dead."

Steve Carellas of the National Motorists Association suggested keeping a backup visor in the car: a baseball cap.

Clean windshields

AAA recommended slowing down and turning on headlights to improve visibility for oncoming motorists. The automobile club also suggested regularly cleaning windshields. Avoid vinyl cleaners, too, because they give dashboards a glossy finish that increases glare, said the experts.

Many readers suggested leaving work a bit early or late to avoid sunny danger. Patricia DiLorenzo, the driver who fears Passaic Street in Hasbrouck Heights, said she uses her flashers as she waits at lights or approaches dangerous intersections. Under glare conditions, Jeanette DeGennaro leaves more space between her car and the one ahead.

Accident reconstructionist Rich Pedersen offered this practical advice for blocking Sol's dangerous glare: "Get behind an 18-wheeler or a large truck," recommended the Bergenfield reader.

Now that he's finished keeping us warm and tan at the Jersey Shore, our old friend Sol is turning ugly again as he shifts his blinding gaze to New Jersey's east-west roadways.

Contact Info:

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

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