As sun sets, risk of crashes rises

Reduced visibility frombright glare is factor in local fatality, injuries

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Driving into the sunset might sound romantic, but officials say reduced visibility from sun glare has contributed to several recent traffic accidents in Vancouver:

On Aug. 23, Liren Fue, 86, was crossing West Eighth Street just after 7 p.m. on a motorized scooter when he was hit by a pickup driven by Wayne Ormand Vaudrey, 22. Fue died at the scene.

A woman was seriously injured at 5:52 p.m. Monday when her Grand Cherokee collided with an Acura SUV and rolled onto its top against a building at Broadway and East 20th Street. The woman ended up losing a few fingers.

Alyson Chilson, 23, was driving west on East 45th Street, about a block west of Main Street, around 6:30 Aug. 29 when she turned into the Pacific Point Apartments and hit John Chaffers, 58, who was on bicycle passing the entrance to the complex.

What do all of these crashes have in common? The vehicles were traveling west as the sun was setting, reducing the driver's visibility.

Traffic Sgt. Pat Johns with the Vancouver Police Department said drivers don't always

adjust the way they drive when the sun is blinding them. He often hears "I didn't see them" after accidents, but the setting sun is a particular problem this time of the year when the area gets sunny, clear skies.

"We get kind of complacent with our abilities," Johns said. "We have to remember that traffic conditions can change in an instant."

He offers a few recommendations for dealing with sun glare:

• If you can, take a different route on shaded roads and changing the time you drive.

• Keep windshields clean, inside and outside, to prevent a film of dirt and grime. The film will reflect the sun, worsening visibility.

• Slow down, even if that means driving below the speed limit.

• Use a visor, wear a hat or wear polarized sunglasses.

• Give your full attention to the road. Any distractions such as having a conversation, reading a book, putting on makeup or talking on a cellphone will contribute to reduced visibility.

• If you have a light-colored dashboard, lay down a dark-colored towel to help reduce glare.

Even with all these tips, drivers can't always avoid the sun. What's a driver supposed to do when they're stopped at an intersection and can't see the stoplight?

"Proceed with caution," Johns said.

He recommends trying to see the stoplight from another angle and checking in all directions before going through the light -- other drivers are having the same problem.

Drivers traveling away from the sun should turn on their headlights to help those blinded by the sun better see oncoming traffic.

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.

While there is no solution for a sun that sets every evening, some countries are changing traffic laws to prevent accidents caused by sun glare.

Since 2009, Canadian drivers have been required to use daytime running lights, which the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal says reduces daytime injury crashes by 3 to 10 percent.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://twitter.com/col_cops;patty.hastings@columbian.com.