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Beware of glare: A cautionary tale

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 6th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Setting sun on N. Killingsworth.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Glare is sort of a pet issue of mine, but I've yet to address it here on the Front Page. The basic issue is this: When the sun is rising or setting and it's low on the horizon, it makes vehicle operators temporarily blind. The reason I bring this up now is because a friend of mine and his five-year old son were involved in a collision because of glare just last week.

Jim Moore being attended to
by EMTs after a crash last week.
(Photo: Nate Gibson)

Last Thursday, I reported (on Page Two), that two people on a tandem were hit by a man driving a white pickup in North Portland. The person in the pickup truck was going west on N. Killingsworth and collided with the tandem as he turned south onto N. Kerby. The Portland Police Bureau issued a press release stating that, "The driver of the truck did not see anyone" when he started his turn.

Morning glare... can you find the
bike lane in this picture?
(Photo: J. Ragsdale)

The next day I got an email. It turns out the guy who was hit was my friend Jim Moore and his son Dylan. Jim acknowledged that — due to glare from the setting sun — the man in the truck couldn't see them. "The guy never saw us, because the sun was setting in his eyes," he wrote via email. (Luckily, no one was seriously hurt.)

BikePortland reader Jon Ragsdale from Beaverton sent in the photo at right of the view from his car in the mornings on Sunnyside Road (between 122nd and 132nd). Jon wrote in to say that they fight the glare every morning and that, "The camera can see the bike lane better than I can."

Please note, I did not post this story not to start a debate about who's to blame in glare-induced collisions or whether "I couldn't see them" is ever an acceptable excuse in a traffic crash. Both of those are worthy debates; but with shorter days bringing sunrise/sunset to peak commute hours, I feel the more important message is simply to be aware — and beware — of glare.

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Comments
  • aljee October 6, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    i have come within inches of a collision for this very reason. in my case the driver of a large work truck ran a red at N Vancouver and Alberta (next to the ebike store). while i narrowly slipped through, the motorist that i was parallel to wasn't so lucky.
    be careful!

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  • Shetha October 6, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    I was really noticing this the other day. Especially if you don't have vision perfect glass on your windshield, it can be a serious issue. Theoretically you should only drive or ride within a speed that correlates to how far your visibility goes. That's why the highways slow down for no clear reason when the sun's right in the driver's eyes. I've nearly cycled right over someone (who failed to yield) in the same conditions. Luckily my brakes did their job!

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  • Zaphod October 6, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Great post Jonathan. If I find myself riding and experiencing this I immediately feel extremely vulnerable to a collision from behind. I resolve by changing my route immediately, even if this adds a pile of stop signs or otherwise thwarts a fast commute. I also pay attention to the reverse where oncoming motorists are squinting and trying to get the visor adjusted exactly right. When this is true, I'm extra vigilant for the errant left turn.

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  • rupert_pupkin October 6, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I had my closest call of the summer last week due to glare.

    5:45 PM or so, I was in one of the new bike lanes on Glisan and about 190th heading east and passing through a shadow as I was about to cross a minor cross street. A car heading west into the sun made a quick left turn. He thought he was clear and got about 5 feet away from me before he noticed me. I'm not sure if even then he actually saw me or just heard me shouting. Happily, he stopped just in time.

    I've got a flashing white LED on the front of my bike now that I'm turning on even during the day and paying extra attention to glare and visibility issues.

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  • Alan October 6, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    +1 on what rupert said. And not just with glare, but as you ride in and out of the shadows in the middle of the day you can also be really hard to see. It may look a little goofy, but I ride with 2 LED flashers in the front and 2 in the back, all the time.

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  • rider October 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    The best investment I ever made in my bike was generator lights. I leave them on all the time and they're permanently attached to my bike. It won't get you seen every time, but significantly increases the odds.

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  • Bob_M October 6, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    I had a woman blow through a red light in front of me. It was early AM and the sun was in her eyes. she acted as if she didn't even see the intersection.

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  • Borgbike October 6, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    This is a big reason why motorcycles and scooters legally must have working headlights on at all times, even during the day.

    I typically now ride with my forward bike light blinking on during the day. At night now I ride with is on continually mostly because I find the blinking so annoying.

    Better to be seen then squished.

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  • Spiffy October 6, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I think this is great timing because as the water starts to come down it's going to cause dirty windscreens and even more glare off a newly wet road...

    evening rain, wet road, dirty windows, morning sun, GLARE!

    thanks for reminding us all to be extra careful during the seasons of low sun and dirty windscreens...

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  • Elly October 6, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Is the problem glare, a daily and predictable phenomenon, or is it that sometimes people choose to continue driving forward at speed, and even turn, when they are not able to see what is in their path?

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  • Elly October 6, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    The law on that topic is well spelled out in this article about a tragedy in Beaverton a few years ago in which the driver made a left turn despite saying the sun was in his eyes:

    http://bikeportland.org/2006/08/11/fatal-crash-sparks-outrage-activism-1827

    Glad everyone is okay this time.

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  • Rip Tatermen October 6, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Where's my protective layer of rainclouds?

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  • maculsay October 6, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    So true, folks. Had the "opportunity" to drive the teenager's car today, and of course, it's windshield was a mess. I watched cyclists disappear into the glare... and now she has all the crap necessary in the trunk for an emergency cleaning. I'm sure she'd want me to ride around in the trunk to clean the windows too.

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  • scoot October 6, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Oh, it hurts, the glare. It's not just drivers who can't see, I can't see, either. I've had a couple of stretches lately where I may as well have been riding with my eyes closed for awhile. Even with polarized sunglasses and a little visor on my helmet, there are just some glares that will not be ignored.

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  • Paul Hanrahan October 6, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Maculsay, two words, trunk monkey!

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  • JJ October 6, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Nothing can be done unless every road is rebuilt to not go directly east-west. Ok, maybe a ton of trees?

    Just last week I was about to go through a stop sign when someone in a pickup drove straight through, slammed on the brakes halfway across, and then accelerated. Clearly, they did not notice the intersection.

    When biking for leisure/exercise I always go north/south ONLY during the sunset hour and take extra caution at intersections. Of course, when biking for transport, there's no such choice.

    The law says that one should only go as fast as conditions permit, meaning 3mph (for example) if they can't see......but clearly nobody does that.

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  • resopmok October 6, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    Probably the hardest thing to remember is facing this situation with the sun at your back, where oncoming traffic may try to make a left turn (blindly) in front of you. It is even easier to forget when the sun is behind you because your vision is more acute, where the sun is lighting things up better and making them more visible. Fortunately I've always commuted westbound in the morning and eastbound at night, so the sun is not in my eyes, but I always keep a watch out for erratic behavior in oncoming traffic under these circumstances.

    If the sun is in my eyes, I do my best to position the bill of my hat to block it from shining directly into them, sometimes keeping my head down and looking at closer road, though there is increased risk in that (I try to avoid it when approaching intersections). If I can't see the traffic signals due to the sun, I keep an eye on crosswalk signals or look for any sign of what my signal indicates until I can see it more clearly.

    When I learned to drive, I was always taught to ask the question, "where's the danger?" This includes recognizing hindrances to other drivers, whether they are following the rules of the road or not. Fault doesn't matter when you're on the physically losing end - you do everything you can to avoid an accident, and remain constantly vigilant.

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  • John Lascurettes October 7, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Riding or driving I always prefer to do it with polarized lenses to reduce glare.

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  • k. October 7, 2010 at 8:51 am

    It is that time of year. This problem is especially acute when the sun is at low angles to the horizon as it is now, especially during drive times. Best to be aware. And don't forget the next seasonal hazard for bikes either; wet leaves in the street.

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  • Joe Rowe October 7, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Glare, icy windows, texting, eating, ipod, GPS, you name it. People drive their cars even if they can't see out their window. The only barrier to stop the madness is a barrier.

    Just last night at dusk a moving car was weaving on Albina and smashed into a parked car near a bus stop. Hit and run.

    This fender could have been a bike.
    http://img525.imageshack.us/img525/5641/movingcarhitsparkedcar.jpg

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  • rrandom rider October 7, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    This summer I came within inches, literally, of being run over by a car whose driver was affected by the glare. I was going north on 7th Ave around Knott when a westbound car rolled through the stop sign. I screamed "hey" in my highly practiced very loud biking voice and she stopped about 6 inches from me. She looked absolutely stunned and terrified.

    I kept on riding and she caught up to me a few blocks later. She rolled down the passenger window and called out very apologetically "I'm so sorry, I didn't see you because of the sun.". Maybe it wasn't very charitable of me, but I yelled back "if you couldn't see, why did you go into the intersection?"

    I understand that she was trying to apologize, but still, if you can't determine whether it is safe to pull into an intersection DON'T GO! Shield your eyes or do what it takes to make sure there the coast is clear rather than relying on dumb luck that there's nobody there.

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  • Thomas Nylen October 7, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    just last week, I had a car just graze my metal back basket as he was quickly turning left on to MLK from Stark. He was completely blinded by the sun (he stopped a profusely apologies). His turn signal was not on, which would have help me anticipate an unexpected turn. Definitely have to be extra diligent to watch for cars with the low sun, not to mention the other distractions that driver's willingly or unwillingly impose upon them self.

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  • Noel October 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Here's a rule of thumb I use when riding. If the shadow of my bike-and-rider mass extends more than one car length in any direction, then I assume that visibility _from_ that direction is compromised.

    Let's take some responsibility for our own safety. Haven't you ever been temporarily blinded by the sun while riding or driving? It can come about suddenly and it creates a situation that the human brain has trouble resolving. Don't assume that people will make the safe choice when suddenly sun blinded and proceed very cautiously. For example, it might be better to slow or stop and wait for a car to clear and intersection before proceeding.

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  • Eileen October 7, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    you can buy glare free eyeglasses, why don't they use this technology in windshields? Drivers can do a lot to prevent glare by wearing polarized sunglasses as well.

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  • adp October 9, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Good article and many helpful comments. Hopefully more bicyclists will choose to go with safety clothing, helmets, and lights.

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  • Oliver October 9, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Car-centric Post ahead:

    This is yet another reason to avoid left turns whenever practicably possible. They are a menace; to efficiency, mileage, the smooth flow of traffic, and other road users. UPS saved millions of gallons of fuel by doing this.

    It does require one to think 2 or 3 moves ahead though.

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  • mello yello October 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    I gave an offhanded comment to a motorist about her putting on makeup while driving. Her glare was just about as blinding.

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  • RL October 12, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    +1 for Rupert(4). My car has daytime running lights; they are on ALL THE TIME for safety. Given that we are much more vulnerable on our bikes, its a wonder this hasn't become the standard.

    Oh, and a tip of the hat to the crew on Broadway/Williams (CCC?) that was recently handing out free blinkies at dusk to folks that didn't have any lights. Good work.

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  • El Biciclero October 13, 2010 at 11:23 am

    I've wondered whether some kind of "Light Conductor" worn on the top of the head would do anything to enhance visibility in low-sun-angle situations. Imagine wearing a big ruby or something on top of your helmet so that when you were backlit by the sun, it would still twinkle and provide visibility--sort of an anti-reflector. I haven't had any chance to experiment with this, so I don't know if it would work at all. In any case, it doesn't seem like any such thing would help in the light/shadow situation.

    I've also discovered that some of the blinkie lights people use aren't as bright as they think they are. They show up great in the dark, but don't do much in the glare. Most of the lights that will work well as DRLs are $200+, which seems outrageous.

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