Sunset in the rush-hour

Don’t make a glaring mistake

Back to black – UK car-buying mood turns darker

Back to black – UK car-buying mood turns darker

Until the clocks go back (27 October), the AA warns that drivers risk being blinded by the glare of sunset as they head for home. Dazzle from the sun contributed to 36 fatal, 423 serious and one in 33 of all reported accidents last year*.

Of the 2,905 accidents in which sun dazzle was reported to be a contributory factor in 2012, 52 happened on motorways, 1,203 on A-roads, 428 on B-roads and 1,222 on other minor roads.

Department for Transport statistics also show that, although sun glare contributes to 3% of reported road accidents in most regions, the North East stands out as the only area with 4% and London with a relatively low 1%.

Two examples from opposite ends of the road user spectrum illustrate the danger of sunset coinciding with the rush-hour:

Vulnerable road users

Many slower and more vulnerable road users - joggers, dog walkers, pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders - will be trying to take advantage of the last of the light evenings before the clocks go back.

For joggers, dog walkers, workers returning home on foot and other pedestrians going with the flow of the traffic and walking with their backs to vehicles are almost twice as likely to be killed or seriously injured in road accidents. 

Research conducted for the AA, from official 2004 pedestrian casualty statistics, shows that 10.8% of the 5,566 pedestrians killed or seriously injured when in the road were walking or running with their backs to the traffic. This compares with 5.9% of the casualties who were facing oncoming cars.

Heavy goods vehicles

The rate of head-on crashes with lorries nearly quadruples in twilight conditions.

According to research of lorry accidents in Europe, up to 10% of accidents in which trucks leave the road, roll over, hit each other head on or up the back happen in twilight conditions.

However, up to 40% of head-on accidents with cars happen when the sun is low in the sky. They tend to happen on rural roads.

Although lorry versus car head-ons represent 5% of accidents in which truck occupants get injured, 42% of these crashes lead to trucks rolling over**.

Three rules for driving at sunset

  • Keep your windscreen clean inside and out - wiping the inside with a cloth dampened in warm water and a little washing up liquid once a fortnight will cut the risk of a screen being blanked out by sun glare.
  • Slow down immediately - it is tempting to carry on at your current speed hoping that you'll turn out of direct sunlight or that something obscures the glare, but by the time that happens, it may be too late. Use the sun visors rather than rely too much on sunglasses and slow down if you're blinded by sun glare.
  • Anticipate the effects of glare on you and other drivers - the sun may appear suddenly from behind trees, buildings and other obstacles if you're heading west on major routes or going up hills, and if your vehicle casts a long shadow in front of it, it is likely that oncoming drivers and those coming out of turnings will have difficulty seeing you coming. 

Over-taking into low sunlight when the road ahead is obscured is risking disaster, injury and perhaps a custodial sentence

Edmund King, the AA’s president


“Most drivers are sensible enough to go with their instincts – they are temporarily blinded and they slow right down. In that respect, drivers behind must expect that to happen,” says Edmund King, the AA’s president.

“Where a dazzling sunset gets particularly nasty is when the road turns unexpectedly into it or the glare appears from behind trees or buildings or by reflection. Drivers can’t gamble that that will change quickly – in the couple of 100 yards that takes to happen, there may be a pedestrian, cyclist or jogger. Likewise, over-taking into low sunlight when the road ahead is obscured is risking disaster, injury and perhaps a custodial sentence.”

(16 October 2013)

* Road Accidents Great Britain 2012, Department for Transport

** European Accident Research and Safety Report 2013, Volvo Trucks