Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Equinox Means More Problems


By Mike Branom, East Valley Tribune

Photo by: Toru Kawana, Tribune

The early morning sun during the equinox season can create a glare that has the potential to make rush hour even more dangerous than usual.


Commuters are being blinded by the light. The Earth’s orbit around the sun and the compass-points layout of the Valley’s road system combine during the fall and spring equinox seasons to make rush hour even more dangerous than usual.

People who drive east from their homes to their jobs now are challenged twice daily to make out traffic signals, signs, pedestrians and other vehicles against a backdrop of dazzling sunshine.

The results can be fatal.

Last week, in a span of less than 14 hours, there were two collisions in Mesa in which a driver looking into the sun ran a red light. On Friday evening, the victim was a 14-year-old boy walking home from football practice; the next morning at a different intersection, a 51-year-old Gilbert man died when his vehicle was struck by a pickup.

Authorities blame the drivers, rather than the sun. But experts know glare can be a factor.

"In Arizona the sun is very bright, and if you’re not paying attention you can miss somebody because of it," said Paul Hallums, president and CEO of the National Traffic Safety Institute in Tucson. "It does interfere here substantially more than in other cities."

Unknown is exactly how much of a factor the sun is in crashes.

"It makes perfect common sense," said Linda Gorman, spokeswoman for Mesa’s transportation division. "But we just can’t prove it."

At least one expert who has studied the sun’s effects knows what Valley motorists face every September and March. Ralph Bouwmeester has made a business of advising builders where to place sun decks, windows and gardens. He also helps attorneys defend drivers who claim they were temporarily blinded by glare.

Angela Cruz ran the red light on Longmore, striking Sean Casey as he walked across Baseline Road around 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Bouwmeester’s computer re-creation places the sun within 7 degrees of straight ahead and 10 degrees up from the horizon. Translated to a 2-foot distance from Cruz’s eyes to the windshield of her Chevrolet Caprice, the sun was slightly less than 3 inches to left of straight ahead and 4 1 /2 inches up from the road.

The conditions were even worse at 7 a.m. Saturday when Antonio Hernandez ran a red light at Val Vista Drive on the eastbound off-ramp of U.S. 60. Hernandez was looking at a sun that was 6 degrees to the right of center and 8 degrees up from the horizon. He hit three vehicles, killing Lawrence Brabeck.

"It’s this time of year that is crucial," said Bouwmeester, whose Web site is http://www.sunposition.com/.

Sun protection

Some advice: Motorists aren’t helpless against the sun’s powerful rays. Police offer these tips:
• Slow down. If you can’t see well, give yourself more time to react.

• Don’t drive with a dirty, cracked or pitted windshield.

• Wear sunglasses. The more protection for your eyes, the better.

• Keep your sun visor clear of excess objects. "A lot of people put a lot of stuff up in their visors," said Arizona Department of Public Safety Sgt. Kevin Jex. "So, when they deploy the visor, they’re distracted by a bunch of papers falling in their laps."

Seeing through the glare

What is an equinox?

As we move toward fall the nights have grown longer and the days shorter. At the equinox, the day and night are equally 12 hours long.

How it affects the Valley:
1 Valley roads are built on a grid system that aligns directly north/south and east/west.

2 Because the sun is aligned with the equator during the equinox it rises in line with eastern roads and sets in line with roads in the west.

3 The atmosphere acts as a magnifying glass on the light hitting the Earth. The sun appears largest at sunrise and sunset because it is traveling though the largest distance of atmosphere.

SOURCE: Montana State University; Tribune research Andrew Long/TRIBUNE

Article re-printed from the "East Valley Tribune" September 29, 2005"East Valley Tribune" is hereby acknowledged for the content.© 2001 - 2005 All Rights Reserved.

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