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It’s that time of year again… Beware of sun glare

Posted by on September 22nd, 2011 at 8:22 am

This photo, taken at 7:28 this
morning, shows the impact of sun glare.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Last year about this time I shared a friendly warning about the perils of sun glare. It just so happens that the sun rises and sets about the same time as the peak AM and PM commutes when lots of people are on the roads. When the sun is at just the right angle, it’s very difficult to see and glare causes many collisions each year — like the one that seriously injured 76-year-old Clark Henry a few weeks ago.

Yesterday I was reminded about this hazard from reader Craig H. Craig shared the story of his friend who was hit on Tuesday morning at 7:30 am while bicycling eastbound (into the sun) on N. Lombard:

She was stopped at a red light (I don’t know the cross street). There was no bike lane, and she was stopped with one foot on the curb. When the light turned green, she left the curb and had only gone a couple feet, when an eastbound car who that seems to have been still traveling at speed hit her from behind…The front-end or fender of the car slammed into the left cheek of her butt, and she was rocketed ahead, like a baseball hit by a bat, but she regained control before stopping.

She couldn’t walk, and was taken by ambulance to Emanuel hospital E.R., who released her after a couple of hours… Today she’s barely walking and in a lot of pain.

Glare was also likely a contributing factor to the much ballyhooed collision involving former NFL quarterback Joey Harrington while he was riding on SE Foster Road back in August.

As far as advice goes, if you’re riding in the opposite direction of the sun, assume that cars turning left cannot see you at all. Stop and wait until they’ve passed before moving through the intersection. If you’re riding into the sun, there’s not as much you can do. Craig H. recommends rolling onto the sidewalk if possible or perhaps even choosing a lower-traffic, tree-shaded route.

Another thing to consider is that the way some people interpret Oregon law, if a vehicle operator claims they couldn’t see another vehicle operator (such as when the hittee allegedly doesn’t have legally required lights or the hitter is “blinded” by the sun) and then proceeds to run into someone, they cannot be held legally liable for the collision.

Ride safely and feel free to share your tips about this common road hazard.

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Comments
  • Kristen September 22, 2011 at 8:45 am

    If the hitter is blinded by the sun and cannot see what they are hitting, then they are in violation of the basic rule. It seems to me that the “I didn’t see him” defense needs to be followed by the “it’s your JOB to see things on the road” offense.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 22, 2011 at 8:47 am

      I agree Kristen, but the legal precedent and the perception of many law enforcement officials thinks the other way… That it can’t be “failure to yield” if the hitter doesn’t know there’s something to yield to.

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      • Randall S. September 22, 2011 at 9:19 am

        Does this mean if I clip a pedestrian while running a red light, I can just claim “I didn’t see him” and get off scott free as well?

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      • Randall S. September 22, 2011 at 9:21 am

        Also, on a more serious note (WTB edit buttons):

        Doesn’t this set an EXTREMELY dangerous precedent, not only for cyclists, but for ALL persons, wherein any driver/cyclist can just claim “I didn’t see .”

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      • Joe September 22, 2011 at 9:26 am

        From now on when I drive a car, I will be wearing sunglasses with blinders taking away 99% of my field of view leaving only enough to go straight. That way if I hit anything I can claim I couldn’t see it.

        But seriously, aren’t you supposed to change your speed based on conditions. If you cannot stop or see an object at the speed you are going, you need to go slower.

        The bike without a light may be an exception. But a bike riding legally in the road during the daylight should not have to worry about every car that can’t see.

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      • wsbob September 22, 2011 at 10:05 am

        “…That it can’t be “failure to yield” if the hitter doesn’t know there’s something to yield to. …” maus/bikeportland

        Especially when the person hit, as in the case of Shostak on his bike out in Aloha, is not running legally required lights that would aid road users to see them against the glare of the setting or rising sun.

        People already know it’s their job to see what’s on the road, but there are practical limits to what that job entails. Road users can’t sit there in the middle of the road forever, peering through the glare of the sun, holding off their decision to turn to debate whether or not there’s a car or bike without lights coming towards them.

        Through the glare of the sun, if road users are able to see some reasonable indication of the road ahead and what’s on it, they’re going to be obliged by other road users to either proceed and not block traffic, or if they’re completely blinded by the sun, get off the road entirely.

        It’s not reasonable to expect road users to be able to pick out other road users vehicle’s that become invisible against the mosaic of shadow and glare of morning and evening sun, when vehicles are lacking required lighting.

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        • Ted Buehler September 22, 2011 at 11:47 am

          “It’s not reasonable to expect road users to be able to pick out other road users vehicle’s that become invisible against the mosaic of shadow and glare of morning and evening sun, when vehicles are lacking required lighting.”

          There is no required lighting during daylight for any vehicle.

          So it’s entirely reasonable to expect all road users to operate their vehicles in such a way that they correctly yeild the right of way and don’t smash into other vehicles. If this wasn’t the case, we’d have carnage…

          Ted Buehler

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          • jim September 22, 2011 at 9:47 pm

            Not true-
            Motorcycles are required to use headlights to run in the daytime. Of course motorcycles also use real headlights, not little blinkie lights that are really worthless from a safety perspective

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        • Alan 1.0 September 22, 2011 at 11:54 am

          When the problem is direct glare, it means the sun is still up and so lights are not legally required. They’re still a good idea, of course, in many conditions.

          It is not only reasonable to require and practice the ability to identify other road users and objects under all conditions, but absolutely essential to the operation of a public road system, and particularly to the operation of powerful, fast, heavy and dangerous machines in that system. Most road users do that already; just watch the brake lights come on where a road turns or grades toward the low-angle sun.

          I agree that our justice system, from cops to courts, has all too often given a “get out of jail free card” to car drivers who use the “didn’t see it” defense.

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          • wsbob September 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm

            “When the problem is direct glare, it means the sun is still up and so lights are not legally required. …” Alan 1.0

            Are you making that interpretation directly from a literal reading of Oregon law?

            The point of running lights, is to enable road users to see each other in reduced lighting conditions. Those conditions aren’t limited to just night-time, but include anytime during day or night when light or weather conditions are such that road users are having difficulty seeing each other. Dark clouds, heavy rain, fog are examples.

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          • Alan 1.0 September 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm

            wsbob
            “When the problem is direct glare, it means the sun is still up and so lights are not legally required. …” Alan 1.0
            Are you making that interpretation directly from a literal reading of Oregon law?

            Yes, in response to your statements that lights are legally required during the day.

            The point of running lights, is to enable road users to see each other in reduced lighting conditions. Those conditions aren’t limited to just night-time, but include anytime during day or night when light or weather conditions are such that road users are having difficulty seeing each other. Dark clouds, heavy rain, fog are examples.

            Sure, and so I said.

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          • Alan 1.0 September 22, 2011 at 12:40 pm

            bleah…slash “blockquote” around my “yes” response…

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          • wsbob September 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm

            Alan 1.0

            wsbob
            “When the problem is direct glare, it means the sun is still up and so lights are not legally required. …” Alan 1.0
            Are you making that interpretation directly from a literal reading of Oregon law?
            Yes, in response to your statements that lights are legally required during the day.
            The point of running lights, is to enable road users to see each other in reduced lighting conditions. Those conditions aren’t limited to just night-time, but include anytime during day or night when light or weather conditions are such that road users are having difficulty seeing each other. Dark clouds, heavy rain, fog are examples.

            Sure, and so I said.
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            Alan…thanks…but I was referring to whether you’d found an Oregon law specifying that lights on vehicles are only legally required to be used after sunset and before sunrise, despite other conditions calling for their use . On page 65 of the Oregon Driver’s Manual:

            “…Using Lights
            Headlights must be turned on from sunset to sunrise. Lights also must
            be on at any time conditions make it difficult to see people or vehicles
            1,000 feet ahead. By using your headlights on rainy, snowy, or foggy
            days, you will help other drivers see you and give yourself an extra safety
            margin. Headlights turned on during daylight hours will make your
            vehicle more visible to oncoming vehicles and pedestrians. Use headlights
            when driving at dusk. Even if you can see clearly, headlights help other
            drivers see you. …”

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    • Spiffy September 22, 2011 at 9:59 am

      exactly… the link to “the way some people interpret Oregon law” not only doesn’t mention anything about this scenario but has no legal foothold at all… not seeing something because you’re blind is never, has never, and will never be a valid excuse to avoid repercussions… they have a vision test at the DMV for a very good reason…

      I don’t like the tone of most of this article… coddle drivers who can’t see? no, never coddle drivers, ever… this is saying that you want to let blind people drive by just avoiding them… no, that’s not how it works… you go about your business legally and if someone illegally runs into you then that’s the chance to get them off the road… it’s called the greater good… I’ll gladly get hit from behind by a blinded driver if it keeps them off the road for a while… way better than living my life in constant fear of every little thing that could go wrong…

      I like the reminder to be careful… be ready to brace for when you get hit…

      but I don’t like the message that we should be scared out there and taking every stupid precaution to avoid any type of possible collision we can possibly think of…

      go ride your bike, on the road, in the sun, and have fun…

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      • Alan 1.0 September 22, 2011 at 11:58 am

        Spiffy, I appreciate your altruism but if there’s a choice in the matter of you being injured but the bad driver being removed, please take evasive action! Luv ya, man!

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  • soontae September 22, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Great reminder Jonathan! I almost got hit this morning as I was heading west on NW Vaughn for this exact reason. I thought the driver, who was stopped at NW 22nd, made eye contact with me. But just as I approached the intersection, he pulled right out in front of me. When I caught up to him at NW 23rd, he apologized and said he didn’t see me as he was staring into the rising sun.

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  • craig September 22, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Hmm. What about…

    ORS 811.100 Violation of basic speed rule;
    penalty. (1) A person commits the offense of
    violating the basic speed rule if the person
    drives a vehicle upon a highway at a speed
    greater than is reasonable and prudent, having
    due regard to all of the following:
    (a) The traffic.
    (b) The surface and width of the highway.
    (c) The hazard at intersections.
    (d) Weather.
    (e) Visibility.
    (f) Any other conditions then existing.

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    • Kristen September 23, 2011 at 9:31 am

      That is exactly what I’m talking about.

      Instead of encouraging the “I didn’t see him” defense, how about making drivers more aware of the dangers, reminding THEM to slow down and take more care.

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  • Zach September 22, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Jonathan, I think you’re misstating the law. In the Aloha collision, the cyclist was invisible because he was violating the light law. His violation of the law was negligent and therefore reduced (but may not have eliminated) the fault of the officer.

    The truck driver who ran over Tracey Sparling was able to avoid criminal liability for failing to see her – not civil liability for his negligence. I’d bet you a quality six pack that her estate received a substantial settlement.

    Most importantly, car-on-car crashes caused by glare have got to be incredibly common. Do you really think we have a liability system where the victims are blamed in these cases? Do you think that drivers, insurance companies, and lawyers would stand for that?

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    • wsbob September 22, 2011 at 11:24 am

      “…The truck driver who ran over Tracey Sparling was able to avoid criminal liability for failing to see her-…” Zach

      I was never able to understand why the truck driver wasn’t cited for failing to yield to Sparling in the bike lane, right next to his truck. Sun glare wasn’t a factor in that collision, nor was lack of daylight, since it happened during the day.

      As I recall, it was the ‘blind spot’ factor that was used to relieve the driver of responsibility for Sparling’s death. That factor though, is one both the truck driver and possibly the company he worked for, or the persons maintaining the truck, had control over. It was their duty to take measures necessary to enable the truck driver to be able to see what’s in the bike lane next to the truck.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 22, 2011 at 11:30 am

      Thanks Zach,

      I understand the differences in the two cases… But it doesn’t change the fact that police in the Aloha case and a judge in the Sparling case both ruled that the motor vehicle operation could not be criminally liable because they were allegedly unable to see anything to yield to.

      And yes, it’s important readers know that there are always two parts of a case like this. The criminal/traffic law part and the civil part.

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      • Zach September 22, 2011 at 11:46 am

        Yes, and this entire post conflates criminal and civil liability.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm

          thanks Zach. I’ll try and edit it to separate the two and I’ll definitely be more careful about that in the future.

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      • wsbob September 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm

        “…police in the Aloha case and a judge in the Sparling case both ruled that the motor vehicle operation could not be criminally liable because they were allegedly unable to see anything to yield to. …” Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

        But the reasons “…they were allegedly unable to see anything to yield to.” in each case, were completely different.

        In the Shostak case he couldn’t be seen because he didn’t have lights. In Sparling’s case, she wasn’t seen because the driver didn’t take appropriate measures to see from within his truck’s cab, someone that was clearly visible alongside his truck.

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  • John Lascurettes September 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Recommendation for low-sun conditions:

    Particularly if you have a dyno-powered lighting system, leave those lights on all the time. Do whatever you can to cut through the glare. A bright high-output LED or a blinking LED certainly do not hurt your chances.

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    • A.K. September 22, 2011 at 10:53 am

      Yeah I’m surprised by the number of people who use such underpowered LED lights that you can barely see them blinking, even at dusk. Why bother? The difference between a very bright LED and a barely visibly one is something like $20-$30. Pony up for the nicer one.

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      • Alan 1.0 September 22, 2011 at 11:39 am

        + fresh batteries

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        • A.K. September 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm

          Indeed. I have the PDW 1watt RadBot rear LED light, and my least-favorite “feature” is that it doesn’t dim as the batteries run out of juice – it just dies. I’ve been on more than one evening ride where I’ve left a set of batteries in for too long and they die mid-way through. Very annoying. I wish they offered a USB-rechargeable version…

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      • Joseph E September 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm

        Even low-powered LEDs are helpful.

        Brighter LEDs use batteries faster. The really bright ones require an expensive lithium ion battery (if you want to use them for more than a few minutes per day) or a dynamo. I have a dynamo system, but I understand that some people cannot afford $150 for the upgrade.

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  • esther c September 22, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Doesn’t make a whole lot of difference what the law says, whether or not the person who hits you gets ticketed or not. You will still be injured, dead, in pain, etc. Protect yourselves. Ride defensively.

    If you have broken bones, they’re just as broken if the person who caused them gets a ticket or doesn’t.

    I think looking for a less traveled tree lined street is the best advice. Avoid streets without bike lanes if you must ride into the sun. Yield right of way even if its yours unless you are 100% sure the driver sees you.

    When you’re commuting you have to ride where you have to ride. If its a pleasure ride, plan accordingly.

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  • Ted Buehler September 22, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Does anyone know if there’s a legal limit to the amount of gunk cars can have on their windshield? A transparency requirement?

    Ted Buehler

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    • Alan 1.0 September 22, 2011 at 12:18 pm

      WA has a law against obscured windshield (as well as against excessive tinting) but it is rarely enforced; think how often you see mud-coated windshields which have been four-wheeling. Sorry, I don’t have the RCW number handy and don’t know about ORS.

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    • John Lascurettes September 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm

      I would think it would fall under some ORS that concerns proper and legal operating condition of the vehicle.

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      • Ted Buehler September 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm

        Thanks — anyone else have a reference or a guess?

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        • Alan 1.0 September 22, 2011 at 7:19 pm

          unobstructed windshield: RCW 46.37.410, ORS 815.220

          tinting/light transmission: RCW 46.37.430, ORS 815.221

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  • sorebore September 22, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Pardon my naivety but… I was under the impression that to rear end another vehicle under any condition would lay fault on the person striking those in front of them. Not to play Devil’s advocate but could someone please point us to an Oregon statute that sets this precident/perception that Jonathan is speaking of? I am super curious about that.

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  • Bob_M September 22, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Last year around this time, I was at the intersection of SE Powell and 26th across from Cleveland High. The light changed, giving me the green, but an eastbound car (a dark red Japanese sedan driven by a dark haired woman) couldn’t see the traffic light through the glare and ran the red light without even slowing down.

    The accident that could result from this can be avoided.

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  • GlowBoy September 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    This is not comparable to riding at night without lights. In the case of sun glare, the usual rules of right of way still apply, and so does the basic speed law. So if the glare is getting in your eyes to the point that you can’t see, you need to slow down.

    I don’t think there’s any question that if you turn left across the path of a bicycle that you failed to see because of glare, you are at fault. The cyclist isn’t violating any legal standards for conspicuity.

    In the case of a cyclist riding at night without lights, that rider IS violating the legal standards for conspicuity. It is reasonable to expect that any VEHICLE (we’re not talking about pedestrians!) traveling on the roadway should have lights and reflectors after dark.

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  • Mindful Cyclist September 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Wow, Jonathan! Write an article about ways to say safe and avoid the ER and commenters throw ORS codes at you!

    I think the main crux of this article (at least my interpretation) is that the sun glare can be a hazard. Much like other things like street car tracks and potholes. As a few others have pointed out, these laws mean nothing to me if I am dead or get a broken bone and cannot ride for 8 weeks.

    Get out and ride your bike in this great weather! Just remember if the sun is hitting you on your back, it may be harder for cars coming at you to see. And, if the sun is in your eyes, make sure you can see pedestrians crossing.

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  • Alan 1.0 September 22, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    wsbob
    Alan…thanks…but I was referring to whether you’d found an Oregon law specifying that lights on vehicles are only legally required to be used after sunset and before sunrise, despite other conditions calling for their use . On page 65 of the Oregon Driver’s Manual:
    “…Using Lights
    Headlights must be turned on from sunset to sunrise. Lights also must be on at any time conditions make it difficult to see people or vehicles 1,000 feet ahead. By using your headlights on rainy, snowy, or foggy days, you will help other drivers see you and give yourself an extra safety margin. Headlights turned on during daylight hours will make your vehicle more visible to oncoming vehicles and pedestrians. Use headlights when driving at dusk. Even if you can see clearly, headlights help other drivers see you. …”

    IANAL but I think the relevant piece of Oregon law (as opposed to the good advice of the driver’s guide) for bicycles is this:

    815.280 Violation of bicycle equipment requirements; penalty.
    (1) A person commits the offense of violation of bicycle equipment requirements if the person does any of the following:
    (a) Operates on any highway a bicycle in violation of the requirements of this section.

    (2) A bicycle is operated in violation of the requirements of this section if any of the following requirements are violated:
    (A) The lighting equipment must be used during limited visibility conditions.
    (B) The lighting equipment must show a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle.
    (C) The lighting equipment must have a red reflector or lighting device or material of such size or characteristic and so mounted as to be visible from all distances up to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlights on a motor vehicle.

    Do sections (A) and (B) together mean that a bike is required to display a light brighter than the rising or setting sun? Isn’t that what would it would take to overpower the glare of looking directly into the sun? That would be the truly literal interpretation of the law in the case of riding with the sun at your back around dawn and sunset, but that is obviously ridiculous.

    More sensibly, it would seem that bicycles would follow the general vehicle headlight law 816.0401(b): At any time from sunset to sunrise or any other time when, due to insufficient light, persons and vehicles are not clearly discernible at a distance of 1,000 feet… Sunrise/sunset glare is not a time or condition of insufficient light.

    This looks like yet another case where Oregon law does not clearly state what is expected of bike operators, or even offers contradictory expectations.

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    • wsbob September 22, 2011 at 5:02 pm

      Alan…thanks…exactly what I was looking for, but didn’t have sufficient concentration to search the ORS for.

      “…(A) The lighting equipment must be used during limited visibility conditions. …”

      I imagine cops are going to have a harder time trying to decide whether or not they’ve got grounds to cite road users for not running lights, in the case of some limited visibility conditions like sun glare and dusk, because those conditions change rapidly and don’t last long. By the time the cop gets there, the sun is completely up…or down…or with sun glare, the sun has moved, changing or eliminating the glare.

      Dark, heavy daytime winter lighting conditions might be easier to cite for. In Oregon, on some days, those can last all day.

      I wouldn’t want to pretend to be able to say exactly, but with sun glare or sunset lighting conditions, lights might be helpful even though obviously they aren’t going to be able to be as bright as the sun. Out in Aloha on Blanton St., Shostac, riding east, would have had the setting sun to his rear. To the officer in the car, Shostak’s figure, to the extent it could have been seen, might have appeared as a form against a dark background with the sky above the horizon being considerably brighter. A light on Shostak’s bike would have contrasted dramatically with the blackness of his back-lit form.

      Shostak also might have had the illuminated sky as the background, tracing out his figure. If so, that would possibly have made him easier for the deputy to see than in the scenario above.

      The Oregon Driver’s manual’s “…1,000 feet ahead. …” advice, seems very cautious, but some people on the road seem to take that advice very seriously.

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  • was carless September 22, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Both my family’s cars have daytime running lights. I do suggest them for bikes during dawn/dusk scenarios.

    13 years with no accidents!

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    • GlowBoy September 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm

      Agreed. I use blinkies in all conditions, including bright sunlight. We’ve now reached the point where even some cheap blinkies can add a lot to your conspicuity, even in broad daylight (or sun glare conditions).

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  • A. Gnostic September 22, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    a couple of thoughts: your shadow points to the direction that drivers can’t see you; the longer it is, the worse the visibility is likely to be for them. Easier to notice if your shadow’s in front of you when riding, so pay attention. Oh, and if the sun’s in your eyes, it’s in the eyes of the driver behind you.

    Astronomically speaking, I’m no Johan Kepler, but it’s at its worst this time of year (equinox) because the sunset & sunrise (can’t say i’ve actually seen the later…) is due west & east, lining up very nicely with all of our due east/west streets. Brutal.

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  • erik September 23, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Another reason the light glare is especially bad…

    For spring and fall solstice the sun is most directly east and west, and with our east / west oriented streets there is no angle of deflection. Sun runs straight down east / west grid streets.

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