Warning to drivers about dangers of low winter sun
An average of four people are killed and dozens more injured each year due to the blinding effects of the winter sun which is at its most deadly this time of the year - especially when snow and ice are a factor, the Road Safety Authority has warned.
Temporary blindness caused by glare from the low-lying winter sun is believed to be a factor in the tragic death of a pedestrian who was killed after being struck by a van while out walking her dog last week, as well as the deaths of other motorists and pedestrians over the years.
Popular nursing manager Elizabeth Balfe (39) was out walking her dog on a country road near her home in Moyneard, Moyne, Co Tipperary, last Tuesday when she was struck by a van.
According to local councillor John Hogan, who lives just metres from the site of the accident, the sun was directly at eye level when the accident occurred shortly after 4pm, and it is understood the driver may have been temporarily blinded by the sun.
Mr Hogan said he had a terrifyingly similar experience himself on the same stretch of road when he was driving with a friend between 3pm and 4pm last Sunday and the glare from the sun all but obscured the driver's view of a man dressed in black who was walking with his back to oncoming traffic.
It was only at the very last minute that Mr Hogan saw him walking along and warned the driver who slammed on the brakes.
"That man was so lucky to be alive," he told the Sunday Independent. "We missed him by inches."
Ms Balfe's tragic death follows the glare-related accident just before Christmas 2013 which claimed the life of an elderly pensioner.
Mary Keane (81), of Castlehill Park, Castlebar, Co Mayo, was struck by a car as she was walking along Pontoon Road in the town on December 23. She died of her injuries on December 30.
A subsequent inquest into her death heard evidence that the driver of the car didn't see Ms Keane due to the glare from the sun
"The low sun broke through the clouds and was shining directly through the windscreen. I continued to drive straight towards town when suddenly I heard the thump at the front, left-hand side of the car," the driver, a mother of two whose children were in the car at the time, told the inquest.
"As I heard the thump, I saw a person hit the bonnet and then the windscreen. The sun was blinding when I hit the person at the time. I didn't see anybody crossing the road when I was driving."
The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.
But Brian Farrell, spokesman for the Road Safety Authority, said such tragic deaths could be prevented if drivers, pedestrians and cyclists realised how lethal the sun could be at this time of year, especially with snow and ice on the roads.
At least three people were killed while out walking and/or cycling in 2014 after being struck by drivers who were unable to see them on the road, he added.
Although gardai do not compile statistics on the number of fatal road accidents that are directly attributed to sun glare, Mr Farrell said glare was a major factor in at least three or four fatal road accidents each year.
Add black ice and snow on the roads, which can magnify the glare, and the combination is particularly deadly, he said,
Conor Faughnan, of the AA, said sun glare was "a real phenomenon, especially at Irish latitudes and especially if the roads are wet".
But if someone is caught out by the blinding sun and can't see, he stresses that it's crucial to slow down and pull over.
"If you are dazzled suddenly, the right thing to do is slow down and move as far as possible to the left," he said.
Conditions can change quickly and the sun can either go down or go behind a cloud, so don't panic, just wait it out, he advised. But under no circumstances should you continue to drive if you can't see clearly.