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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sun-Blind Drivers can Kill

Published in the Fort Collins, Coloradoan "Smart Cycling" column 
Sept. 6, 2010
By Rick Price 
Even though 95% of bike crashes can be avoided, we all know that “stuff happens.”  Like the night I knocked a Colorado State Patrolman on his back in the middle of North Overland Trail at Vine Drive.  I didn’t see him until my forearm hit him in the gut.  He was on his back in the middle of the road in the blink of an eye.    

The investigation, which took a week, determined that I was blinded by the flashing lights of the police cruiser parked in the bike lane.  The officer was standing next to his cruiser with no flashlight and no reflective material on his dark blue uniform.  I was absolved of any wrongdoing in the crash because of the “blinding lights.”

There are a number of lessons here but the biggest one is this:  watch out not to be blinded by bright lights and this time of year be especially careful of sun-blindness when driving your car or bike.

(See the link to the story by Keri Caffrey that accompanies this photo at the bottom of this post.  Do you see the cyclist in the picture?)

Sun-blindness often occurs in Fort Collins within six weeks each side of the equinox (September 20th or 21st) especially within an hour after sunrise and before sunset.  It is a big issue on east-west streets.  And it can kill.  The same conditions exist before and after March 21st but fall is far worse because the weather is still warm and kids, including college students, are bicycling to school in large numbers. 

Amanda Miyoshi was bicycling to Fort Collins High School on Sept. 11, 2007.  As she crossed Horsetooth Road at 7:30 a.m. the young 17 year old driver headed east didn’t see her until it was too late.  Amanda was wearing a helmet yet she suffered a traumatic brain injury from which she is still recovering. The sun rose that day at 6:37 a.m. and was no higher than three and a half-fingers above the horizon, using the boy scout method of calculating the sun’s position by holding your arm out and measuring the number of fingers between the horizon and the sun.

Fourteen year old "SiSi" Mijiddorj was crossing Drake Road and was hit by an east-bound SUV at 6:43 a.m. on Aug. 20, 2009.  The sun had risen less than thirty minutes earlier.  At the time of the crash the sun would have been about two fingers above the horizon.  The SUV driver never saw her.  SiSi died that evening. 

Cyclists and motorists should be very careful on east-west streets this time of year, especially in the morning but also in the evening.  During morning hours motorists should slow down and be aware that cyclists and pedestrians are headed to school.  Cyclists should stop before crossing arterials and walk across them if necessary.  Use sidewalks if you must and be aware that motorists simply may not see you if they are blinded.  Another option is to change your route:  use the trails or use neighborhood streets where trees cast shade and cut back on the possibility of sun-blindness. 

(For a great illustration of how the sun can render a bicyclist invisible check out this blog post by Keri Caffrey:  "The Blinding Sun ") 

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