Sun Glare Hazards

Although glare can be dangerous year-round, it is an especially big problem in the fall & winter months of year, when factors conspire against pedestrians and drivers during the worst traffic hours of the day: rush hours. The change from daylight-savings to standard time also impacts driving at sunset. Nationwide, glare is the official cause of only a fraction of fatal crashes across the country less than 0.3 % according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, many investigation forms do not record sun glare, so severe underreporting is probable.

Glare is at its worst when the sun is low, toward the horizon. That typically occurs in the hour or so after sunrise and before sunset, which means glare is a problem from about 7:30-9:00 a.m. & from 5:00-6:30 p.m.

Make yourself conspicuous, being seen or standing out, in traffic. Primary factors that affect being seen include selective perception, environment and congestion. Following are brief discussions of each factor, and information on ways to make pedestrians more conspicuous.

  • Selective Perception: Among the biggest enemies of pedestrians and drivers is the phenomenon of selective perception. People tend to see what they are looking for and to overlook things in which they have no interest. When most motorists drive, they usually search for the things that are most likely to damage their vehicle or cause them injury — other motorist. Pedestrians can get lost in the background. They are not conspicuous!
  • Environmental Factors: Environmental factors can also affect the visibility of pedestrians and bicyclists to motorists. Rain, snow, smoke, fog, wind-driven precipitation, shadows and glare all reduce visual range and acuity. Man-made aspects of the environment are equally important. Dirty or cracked wind-shields not only reduce vision, but magnify the effects of glare.
  • Congested areas: Employee working along roadways & active job sites must keep a watchful eye on traffic, their own safety, and the safety of the equipment they are responsible for. Visibility to motorists & operators is extremely important as roads & sites become more congested with vehicles and when construction changes the traffic pattern.

Glare-induced “blindness” is especially prevalent during the winter months, due to the lower elevation of the sun in the sky and the extremely reflective qualities of snow and ice on the ground. Because snow is so reflective, there is a risk of up to 85 percent of the UV rays of the sun being transmitted upward. Age-related macular degeneration is the major cause of reduced vision in the US for people over age 55. Scientists speculate that chronic UV exposure may contribute to aging in the retina. Wearing quality sunglasses has a proven positive effect to reduce glare blindness.

The key to site workers and those on foot to be safe safety in glare situations is to make yourself more visible to operators and drivers.

  • Be sure to wear CLEAN retro-reflective, hi-vis clothing and PPE.
  • Avoid the shadows when walking near roads and in yards.
  • Have clear and dark safety glasses. Amber are also available for night and transition times of day.
  • Warn others and Speak-Up when you see a situating developing where those on foot are at risk.

“When the sun is at your back, assume that vehicles moving towards you cannot see you at all.”

John Shubert, Author and Forensic Bicycle & Pedestrian Accident Investigator

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