Sun Glare Driving
One of the things we teach savvy cyclists is that a bright sun, low on the horizon, can be a dangerous condition. Google “sun glare driving.” As with operating around big trucks, how to handle this condition is an essential need-to-know for cyclists.
And I do mean essential. Earlier this month my friend Steve Magas chronicled the heartbreaking aftermath of a child killed by a sun-blinded driver in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
CyclingSavvy’s classroom presentation includes photos of how a bike can be hard to see in circumstances when the sun is in the eyes of another vehicle operator. Every driver of every vehicle should be mindful of that, but you don’t want to encounter a driver who isn’t so mindful.
My riding seldom puts me in a position where I have to worry about this. But it happened on June 12.
The longer the shadow, the greater the danger.
I had gone on an important errand. My wife wanted a squirt gun, to do battle with squirrels that trespass our backyard bird feeder. And by gum, I headed straight for the nearest Dollar Tree and got her a good one. It’s a bazooka-style pool toy, with a range of 20 feet or so.
On my way home from the store, the sun was low, less than two hands’ width above the horizon, glaring down the road and causing my eyes to squint.
I remembered the succinct way Bob Sutterfield had summarized what to know:
“Your shadow points in the direction of the people who can’t see you.”
My shadow was pointed straight down the road behind me
I found myself with a perfect example of “sun glare driving” blindness. The people behind me couldn’t see me.
This was a narrow two-lane road, with no shoulder, no alternatives, and no intersection for the next few furlongs. After a minute of nervous-nellying, I knew what I had to do.
I got off my bicycle. I moved to the other side of the road. And I walked.
Now I was a pedestrian, easily visible to oncoming motorists. No problem.
I stopped and took two photos. The photos aren’t perfect, because I couldn’t prop my bike in the roadway. Instead, I leaned the bike against a signpost in the grassy swale beside the road. Nonetheless, my photos make the point.
Your Shadow Points to the Danger
Can you see my bike in the sun-in-the-eyes photo? You’ll have to look for a minute.
Would you see it, if you were wearing sunglasses and looking through a dirty tinted windshield? Why risk that?
In the away-from-the-sun photo, everything in front of you is visible. But even so, there are still hazards. Oncoming motorists can’t see you, and motorists at intersections in front of you can’t see you. So they might turn across your path.
That’s the dangerous irony of this condition. When you’re riding along with the sun at your back, you might think everything’s crystal clear and hunky-dory. It isn’t!
If the sun’s in your face, you may have to go for a walk like I did. If the sun is behind you, you can probably ride safely, provided you are very aware that motorist in front might not see you.
So, that day, I decided I’d just mellow out and enjoy the walking interlude. And then the road shifted direction slightly, and a combination of terrain and tree canopy blocked the sun somewhat. I got back on the bike and rode the rest of the way.
My decision to stay safe added five or 10 minutes to my trip time. That was time well spent to have 100 percent immunity against that crash cause.
And my wife enjoys her squirt gun.