Sun Glare - Bright Sun While Driving
Sun Glare - Many suits have been brought in United States courts as a result of sun glare obliterating traffic control devices or oncoming vehicles or pedestrians from view. Multiple terms have been used to describe this situation, including disability glare, veiling glare, sun blindness, and sun dazzle. The effect is to 'wash out' the image on the retina with a bright, overwhelmingly dominant spot or pattern.
Evaluation of sun glare requires factoring in latitude and longitude, road direction, weather conditions, vehicle size and type, driver position, time of day, windshield transmission, whether the driver was wearing sunglasses, and any other parameters that could affect line of sight.
Sun Glare - Sight Unseen - ABC News 20/20
Monday, March 22, 1999
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)
CHARLES GIBSON Right now, we’re going to put you in the driver’s seat of a car under some surprisingly hazardous conditions. Surprising, because these conditions have nothing to do with maneuvering through rain, sleet or snow. It turns out that on a bright, sunny day or a clear, starry night, you can still face danger behind the wheel. Michael Guillen looked into some of the unexpected reasons why. He’s also found a number of ways you can reduce the danger. They could save your life or someone else’s.
MICHAEL GUILLEN, ABCNEWS (VO) We all know it’s dangerous driving in the fog and rain. But even when the weather is picture-perfect, as the sun rises, moves across the sky and then sets, many drivers are suddenly discovering that they’re driving blind either because there’s too little sunshine or too much.
DOREEN CICCONE Oh, it was a beautiful day, crystal clear. I was just driving normal, thought I could see everything well.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) One day last spring, Doreen Ciccone was driving down Lancaster Street in Leominster (ph), Massachusetts, when all of a sudden ...
DOREEN CICCONE I heard a thump. And when I looked in my rear-view mirror, I saw somebody on the ground.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) Doreen had hit and killed an elderly woman who was crossing the street. Doreen never saw her coming.
DOREEN CICCONE They say that it was sun glare. I had no vision of seeing anybody. But yet, somebody was there. I guess I blame myself every day still for it.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) No one keeps precise numbers, but police say blinding glare like this is a lot more common and deadly than most people realize. Officer Michael Thomann (ph) investigated Doreen’s accident.
MICHAEL THOMANN, POLICE OFFICER I’ve seen it at least a half dozen times in my career on the job where somebody has actually died as a result of the accident. You can’t even count the number of accidents as a result of sun glare.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) It’s a familiar story. In California, a bus driver with sun in his eyes hits and kills a little girl. In New Jersey, a man blinded by the sun drives smack into an oncoming train. And in New York, glare is blamed when a truck driver accidentally hits a woman crossing the street. In fact, some cities are so worried, they’re putting up new warning signs like this.
(on camera) Glare is especially bad in the early fall and early spring like now. That’s when the sun rises almost exactly East and sets almost exactly West. Now, for all the streets that are laid out in an East-West pattern, that’s a problem, because that means that during the morning and afternoon commutes, you’re most likely to be driving directly into the sun.
(VO) But the sun doesn’t have to be directly in your eyes to be dangerous. You can be blinded indirectly any time of the day by something called “veiling glare.” You know, those annoying reflections off the top of your dashboard. They dance across your windshield and obscure your view. Like a veil, you can see through it, but not very clearly.
CLARENCE DITLOW (PH), CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY Veiling glare is something that a lot of consumers encounter, but until they’re told what it is, they don’t realize it.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) Clarence Ditlow is the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. Lately, he says, automakers have unwittingly done two things to make veiling glare worse. First, those sleek new windshields that look so nice? Well, they are aerodynamic and they make cars more fuel efficient, but they can be trouble. The problem is that when you tilt the windshield, the underlying dashboard naturally gets bigger and, therefore, becomes more reflective. The second problem is color.
CLARENCE DITLOW We have the auto manufacturers going to lighter colored dashes to match the color of the upholstery in the interior.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) And when you make the dashboard light colored, you make it even more reflective. For example, take a look through this windshield. Notice anything unusual? Probably not. But watch what happens when we put black felt on top of the light-colored dash. Suddenly you can see a child you couldn’t see before. She was hidden by veiling glare. Look at that again — without the black cloth and with.
CLARENCE DITLOW If you’re buying a new car today, particularly one that has a windshield that slopes back, avoid ones with light-colored dashes.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) Other tips? Well, avoid those popular vinyl cleaners that give your dash a high-gloss finish. Looks great, but they turn your dash into a mirror. And finally, to fight glare of all kinds, wear sunglasses made with polarized lenses. As you can see, ordinary lenses are not designed to cut through glare. Polarized lenses are. But the sun isn’t the only thing that can affect your vision. As it moves across the sky and begins to set, the problem of too much sunshine gives way to the hazards of not enough. Bob Daras (ph) of Commerce Township, Michigan, knows all too well the horrors of driving blind on a crystal clear night.
BOB DARAS I was in the right-hand lane. And we were going to the expressway, 696.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) It happened last fall, just after sundown, when Bob and Deborah, his high school sweetheart and wife of 28 years, were going out for the evening.
BOB DARAS Next thing I knew, the windshield exploded in my face.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) As he frantically pulled over to the side of the road, Bob suddenly realized he had hit a deer crossing the street in the dark.
BOB DARAS I didn’t even know it was deer until it hit me in the face.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) But the worst part came when Bob turned to his wife.
BOB DARAS I said, “Honey, are you OK?” And I seen something I can’t ever forget, because her face was tore like real bad.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) A day and a half after the accident, Deborah died from her injuries.
BOB DARAS She was everything to me. She was my best buddy. And I miss her. I really miss her a lot.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) Bob’s story is all too painfully common. Statistically, driving in the dark is three times deadlier than driving in broad daylight — three times. And no wonder. Our eyes were not designed to see in the night, certainly never meant to be watching for hazards while barreling down a darkened road at 50 miles per hour. And it only gets worse with age. As our eyes become less sensitive to light, we become more night blind.
(on camera) So what can be done? Well, take a dark night like this one. The only reason you can see me is because I’m awash in TV lights. Lose the lights, and I disappear. But there is another way you can see me that doesn’t require ordinary light. Like now, you’re seeing me through the eye of an infrared camera that is sensitive to the heat radiating from my body.
(VO) Incredibly, GM has mounted one of these infrared cameras onto the front grille (ph) of its Year 2000 Cadillac Deville. The video signal is carried to the dash and displayed onto the windshield. They let us film this futuristic car only in the dark, for fear of giving away the body design. And only on the inside, where we could see, right there on the lower part of the windshield, the roughly 4-inch by 10-inch infrared display. But wouldn’t that be distracting? I asked Cadillac chief engineer Ed Zellner (ph).
ED ZELLNER, CADILLAC CHIEF ENGINEER Imagine it just as a rear view mirror. The rear view mirror is also additional information that you need to drive. You glance at it occasionally. This is the same kind of a thing.
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) To put the system to the test , I was allowed to drive through an obstacle course set up along a very dark country road. With my regular view, I see nothing but darkness. But the night vision camera has spotted a problem up ahead.
(on camera) There is something off to the side of the road, and it is moving, and I only have this night vision to guide me. It’s a woman with a dog.
(VO) With the camera, I see the situation clearly a full 30 seconds before my naked eyes do.
(on camera) And there they are. Wow.
(VO) The night vision camera can see things up to five times beyond the reach of your headlights, giving you up to five times longer to react to a sudden hazard.
(on camera) There is this car with brights. The camera, I discover, is also good at dealing with blinding high beams. There is somebody crossing this street, according to this night vision. But I cannot see a blasted thing with my eyes. And this is such a dark country road, I could not see that person. That is actually kind of spooky. That person would have probably been dead.
(VO) A night camera is also great at detecting animals, like deer, which is crucial. Every year in the US, there are more than 300,000 car-deer accidents. Most happen at night, and many are fatal, as Bob Daras knows all too well.
BOB DARAS I never had a warning, nothing. I’m always trying to figure out where that deer came from, you know?
MICHAEL GUILLEN (VO) The night vision system has come too late to save Bob’s wife. But he’s heartened by the thought of anything that might help others steer away from the dangers that lurk in the dark.
CONNIE CHUNG Cadillac says its night vision system will cost around $2,000. Other car makers may offer a similar option in the near future. Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that driving slowly at night helps, and keep your windshield clean, day or night
Bright Sun, Deadly Collisions
Driving off into the sunset might be romantic in the movies, but on city streets and highways, the glare from the setting sun can be deadly.
Sun glare was blamed for at least two pedestrian fatalities in San Francisco in past weeks, one as recently as Oct. 2, when Caroline Drewes, 80, a beloved former Examiner reporter and one of the first female journalists in San Francisco to cover non-society news, was hit by a car as she was walking with her dog across Jackson Street in Pacific Heights.
The driver never saw her in the crosswalk, he told police. The setting sun was directly in his eyes as he crested the hill at Lyon Street about 6:30 p.m.
Although glare can be dangerous year-round, whether in urban areas or remote deserts, it is an especially big problem in San Francisco at this time of year and in early spring, when several factors conspire against pedestrians and drivers during the worst traffic hours of the day: rush hour.
Nationwide, glare is the official cause of only a fraction of fatal crashes across the country - 195 in 56,793 - according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
But the statistics belie the danger. Some police departments - such as San Francisco's - don't keep statistics about the causes of accidents. And even those that do - including the Highway Patrol - don't list glare as a category for investigating officers to check off. In California, highway accidents caused by a driver blinded by sun glare may be hidden in a category like "driving in speeds in excess of safety," CHP spokesman Steve Kohler said.
Because statistics are not kept in San Francisco, it is not known how many accidents can be blamed on glare. Officer Ray Shine, of the motorcycle unit of the San Francisco Traffic Police Division, handled the cases of Drewes and another pedestrian, Karen Kennedy, 38, who was crossing the road at the Lincoln Golf Course at El Camino del Mar near Land's End about 5:30 p.m. Aug. 20 when she was hit and killed by a westbound driver blinded by the sunlight.
To Shine, who has spent 18 years on the road monitoring traffic, glare is even more dangerous than the much more publicized peril of driving in fog.
"I think most people slow down in fog," he said. "But in glare they continue, because it's a nice clear day."
Drivers are blinded by the sunlight as it hits their windshield. But there is also "veiled glare," which is indirect sunlight that comes in at an angle, or reflects off glass towers and other cars. Like a veil, you can see through it, but not very clearly.
A dirty windshield only worsens the problem, according to "Responsible Driving," a driver's ed textbook published by the Automobile Association of America.
Illuminated by the sunlight, every dust particle, every streak, every smudge becomes magnified, so the only thing that can be seen is the windshield dirt instead of the road. Meanwhile, though the windshield is bright, the low-slung sun of sunrise and sunset is casting long shadows in the road ahead, making seeing even harder.
But glare is not only a problem when motorists are driving into the sun, Shine said. He blames a lot of red light running on glare, too.
When the sun is behind motorists, he said, the light often bounces off the reflectors of the traffic lights ahead, causing them to have the same brightness - and to look like they are all the same color. Some motorists run the red light because it looks the same upon approach as the green light they saw moments before.
Glare is especially acute this time of year and in early spring, which astronomers call the equinox. Several factors only worsen the problem for rush-hour commuters in San Francisco.
*Glare is at its worst when the sun is low, toward the horizon. That typically is the hour or so after sunrise and before sunset, said Bing Quock, assistant chairman of the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences. At this time of year, that means glare is a problem from about 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., and from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. - the height of rush-hour traffic.
*The sun rises and sets exactly due east and west in the weeks before and after the official start of spring on March 20 and autumn on Sept. 21.
*San Francisco, like many cities, is largely laid out in a grid pattern, with streets running north to south (like Van Ness Avenue), and east to west (like Geary). Most office and retail jobs are downtown, which means that morning commuters tend to head east - which means they have to drive into the sun to get to work. Many residential neighborhoods are on the west side of town, which means that commuters heading home are once again driving toward the sun.
*The City's hills can offer some shade. But when drivers crest those hills, they can be blinded by the sudden burst of sunlight.
"You round the corner, get up that hill, and whang, it hits you," said Officer Shawn Chase, a spokesman for the CHP's San Francisco office.
Traffic safety experts advise motorists to use common sense. Clean your windshields. Wear quality sunglasses with polarized lenses and UV protection. Turn headlights on so oncoming motorists can see you as they're driving toward the sun.
Drive slower, even below the posted speed. It's against the law to drive at speeds in excess of road conditions. Use the same precautions and care as driving in other hazardous conditions, like fog or rain. If you can't see, don't drive.
And, if possible, change your driving route. Use north-south streets until you find an east-west road with lots of trees or taller buildings.
Glare, though it can suddenly blind you at an intersection or on top of a hill, should never come as a surprise, the CHP's Kohler said.
"Last time I checked," he said, "the sun goes down every day."