On a July evening, Forest Brown was driving carefully down a residential street, not exceeding the 25 mph speed limit. The evening sun was bright and glaring off other cars, making it very difficult to see. In fact, it was so bad that as he was driving, Mr. Brown did not see a 5-year-old boy run into the street in front of his car. The car struck the boy, who was seriously injured. Luckily, he survived.
This is one of many such stories. Sun glare is the cause of thousands of accidents across the world. A population-based study between 2003 and 2016 about the effects of sun glare on pedestrians in Taiwan found that 13,000 of the 100,000 pedestrians involved in crashes were related to sun glare. Here in the US, there are over 9,000 car accidents related to sun glare annually. The National Library of Medicine warns that the risk of a life-threatening crash is 16% higher during bright sunlight than in normal weather conditions.
It’s bad enough when a car hits another car, but drivers and passengers enjoy some protection from a car’s safety systems. When pedestrians are struck by cars, however, the chance of serious injury - or worse - is significantly higher, because the pedestrian has no protection.
The dangers of sun glare
When experts analyze accident and crash data, they consider multiple variables, including road and weather conditions, driver activity and others, all of which can affect driver awareness and vehicle control. Sun glare is a particularly important factor, and recent studies have focused on its effect on drivers' vision and awareness.
Sun glare can affect drivers’ vision so intensely that they often cannot react until an accident has occurred. There’s no warning to slow down; only the sickening sound of an impact alerts a driver that they have hit something. That is why accidents involving sun glare are more likely to result in serious or fatal injuries than accidents that don’t.
This means it’s also important to consider “sun glare season,” which happens during the spring and fall, when the sun is low on the horizon, and when sunrise and sunset coincide with peak commuting times. During sun glare season, the sun shines more directly into the eyes of drivers and pedestrians alike, making it difficult to maintain a clear view of the road.
Daylight savings time changes can extend sun glare season - and make it worse. The early evening hours are often the most dangerous times, according to historical accident data.
Sun glare also reduces the ability to see and react to traffic lights and other signals, causing drivers to unintentionally run red lights. Pedestrians can be moving with the right of way, but a driver, unable to see the signal, won’t stop. Both parties think they have the “right of way,” but the results can be devastating.
Minimizing the effects of sun glare while driving
So, how can accidents relating to sun glare be minimized or avoided?
Drivers should strive to watch out for and share the road with others whether they’re on foot, a bicycle, a scooter or some other mode of transportation.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when you drive:
- Regardless of the time of day, be on the lookout for pedestrians.
- Be extra vigilant when sun glare is present, in bad weather, and during nighttime hours when it is harder to see clearly.
- Use appropriate accessories to block or minimize the effect of sun glare on your vision.
This could include the car visor, polarized sunglasses, a hat or The ADDVISOR, the unique independent visor that fits virtually any vehicle and improves overall glare protection, as compared to a car’s single visor. It attaches easily and blocks front sun glare, letting you swing the car visor to the side for “Two Direction Sun Protection.”
- When approaching a crosswalk, stop well before the markings so other drivers are able to see crossing pedestrians.
- When driving to and through a crosswalk, slow down and be sure to yield to pedestrians.
- Do not pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk, as there may be pedestrians you can’t see.
- Never drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
- Follow the speed limit, especially in school zones, places where kids are present and areas with high pedestrian activity.
- Be extra alert when backing up, and look for pedestrians on all sides of your car.
Minimizing the effects of sun glare as a pedestrian
If you’re a pedestrian, there are steps you can take to improve your safety, too:
- Be aware of signs and signals geared toward drivers.
- Cross roads where there are pedestrian safety signs when possible.
- When they exist, use sidewalks. If no sidewalk exists, keep as far from traffic as you can and walk facing traffic whenever possible.
- Don’t cross a street from between or from behind cars. Cross at marked crosswalks or at intersections. Be sure to look for cars in all directions.
- In the absence of a crosswalk or intersection with pedestrian signals, cross in a well-lit area with visibility of traffic. Continue watching for oncoming traffic, and try to make eye contact with any drivers as you cross.
- Watch for cars at driveways and in parking lots.
- Avoid using anything that will impair your judgment while walking - like alcohol and drugs.
The emotional toll of auto accidents
We have talked a lot about the danger to pedestrians and the many ways that sun glare increases the risk of accidents. The physical and emotional injury to the pedestrian is clear and obvious. Many are not aware that both passengers and drivers face less visible damage when involved in a car accident.
A driver who hurts someone in an accident, and even a passenger seeing the accident, can often experience strong emotional reactions. The American Psychological Association indicates that car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD in the US.
When a child is involved, the potential harm from the accident increases in several ways. Children are frequently hurt worse than adults in the same situation; children viewing an accident may experience more intense reactions to it; and a driver's feelings of guilt are often stronger when a child is hurt.
The laws of the road
Finally, remember that there are two ‘laws’ of the road. One is the “right of way,” defined by traffic laws and custom. The other is what we call the “right of weight,” which is determined by the laws of physics: a heavier object will overpower a lighter one. The unfortunate reality is that “right of weight” is ultimately more important than “right of way” when it comes to staying safe and avoiding injury.
Please: stay safe, stay alert - and enjoy the drive!