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A sure sign of autumn: Sun Glare When Driving

By Judy Rife

Article re-printed from the "The Times Herald-Record", Middletown NY Oct 10, 2011
Times Herald-Record is hereby acknowledged for the content.
Copyright © 2011 Dow Jones Local Media Group, Inc.

Go ahead, croon along with Dino on that '50s station you're listening to in the car this morning.

Just remember, when the sun hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie, that it's not amore, but sun glare.

Sun glare, of course, can be a driving hazard around the calendar, but is especially perilous in the fall. Today's installment of You Ask/We Tell explains why this is so and what you can do about it.

"As the sun falls lower and lower on the horizon, sun glare becomes an issue simply because sunrise and sunset suddenly coincide with the heaviest commuting hours," said Paul Walker, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather in State College, Pa.

You do the astronomical math: The sun rose in these parts at 5:28 and set at 8:38 on June 21, the longest day of the year, and it will rise at 8:20 and set at 5:20 on Dec. 21, the shortest day.

If you conclude that this drive-time trick repeats in reverse in the spring, you're right. But the fall still holds the edge in the sun-glare sweepstakes because it often adds fog to the mix.

"There's a lot more fog in the fall,'' said Walker. "Water temperatures are at their peak, nights are longer, winds are lighter."

The best strategies for navigating this seasonal obstacle course are common-sense ones, since, as Sgt. Tom Ferritto at Troop T in Albany puts it, "You can't not go to work because of the angle for the sun."

Common sense is keeping the windshield spotless, inside and out; keeping sunglasses — polarized, please — handy, and keeping the dashboard and visors free of clutter.

"Make a habit of turning on your headlights when you leave the house in the morning, too," said Sgt. Scott Mohl at Troop F in Middletown. "Headlights, even hazard lights, will make your car more visible."

Common sense is not buffing the dashboard to a blinding shine.

"A big no-no is using a product like Armor All," said Ralph Bouwmeester, a civil engineer and sun position expert in Barrie, Ontario. "You want a little dust."

(Actually, Bouwmeester, who has reconstructed sun position for accident and crime scenes, thinks the highway would be a better place if dashboards were covered in black felt.)

But none of this common sense compensates for failing to be aware of your surroundings and alert to sudden changes.

"Many drivers don't anticipate well," Bouwmeester said. "They should be looking ahead, to see where the shadow lines are."

Commuters are most vulnerable to accidents when they're changing direction, not when they're driving straight into the sun. Negotiating a curve or making a left turn brings into play a new set of sun and shadow angles with the potential to obscure other cars or pedestrians, as well as pavement markings and traffic signals.

"And don't forget," said Bouwmeester, "when you're driving away from the sun, that the glare can wash out the brake lights of the car ahead of you."

Contact Info:

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

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