Blinded by the sun light: is it a defence in collision liability?

Blinded by sun light

You approach a green light in downtown Victoria intending to make a right turn. As you get closer, suddenly, the sun hits you with the full force of its light. You’re blinded by the sun. Vision is absolutely shot and you hear a loud thud. You’ve hit someone.

Is the fact that you had a green light, was making a legal turn and had driven carefully with the exception of being blinded by the sun a defence in determining collision liability? This is a question often raised before the courts.

When have drivers raised the defence of being blinded by the sun?

One case involved a woman who had been waiting to make a left turn at a Vancouver intersection. The woman’s car was already partway in the intersection as she waited for a line of cars to pass. By the time traffic finally cleared, the light had turned red. As she completed the turn, she was suddenly blinded by the sun for “2 or 3 seconds” and struck a pedestrian who was making a crossing.

The court did not dispute that the sun was a factor. A police officer who followed the woman’s same route even gave evidence later that she too was “completely blinded by the sun,” and that it was difficult to see the colour of traffic lights.

But in spite of these factors, the court found the woman completely responsible for the crash. Here’s what the judge said:

“Upon becoming blinded she made no attempt to stop but pressed forward. Had she stopped when blinded there would have been no accident. She lacked patience and circumspection. Irrespective of the state of the traffic lights and the pedestrian signals, I have no hesitation in finding that the accident was caused wholly by the negligence of the defendant.”

What are the court’s expectations when a driver is blinded by the sun?

In determining whether there is a defence against liability, a factor often assessed by the courts is whether the defendant exercised due diligence in trying to prevent the accident. The courts must try to determine whether a defendant took all reasonable steps available to prevent an accident.

In the case of a crash caused after a driver was blinded by the sun, factors the court may examine include:

  • whether the driver was wearing sunglasses
  • whether the sun visor was down
  • the speed the driver was travelling at
  • if the driver made other attempts to ensure the road is clear
  • whether the driver stopped the vehicle when blinded
  • if the driver knew they were about to be blinded by the sun
  • whether the driver checked all available traffic lights
  • any other factors considered relevant by the court

Establishing that a driver had exercised proper due diligence in a crash involving blindness from the sun can be difficult. In many cases, even when drivers had taken steps to be careful by slowing down or using a sun visor, the courts have still found the blinded driver responsible for the collision.

Just the fact that you were blinded by the sun is generally not an effective defence. The courts have established that the presence of a blinding sun actually “imposes a higher degree of care” on a driver to be more careful, not less.

And sometimes, you simply shouldn’t be driving when it’s that bright out

In one case, the courts determined that a driver should have simply not driven down the road where the driver was blinded. In a case in Alberta that was decided in 2011, the judge said this:

“…an average, careful man would not have driven down 9B Avenue when blinded by the sun. As stated in the Russell case and the Jeffers case that is negligent, reckless behaviour and I find it is driving carelessly whether the speed is 33 kilometres per hour, 35 kilometres per hour, 48 kilometres per hour or between 62 kilometres per hour and 75 kilometres per hour.”

The speed limit on the road in question was 50 km/h. The judge states plainly that the driver simply shouldn’t have been on that road that day, when the sun was shining that brightly. It wasn’t a matter of speed or slowing down. In our view, it is sometimes not possible to completely avoid a road altogether and the judge saying so may be unfair, but we have an obligation to abide by the court’s decisions.

Being blinded by the sun is not in itself a defence. But it is a potential factor that can lead to a crash, and it may be completely out of your control. If you were involved in an accident where visibility was blinded by the sun light, consider giving us a call to discuss your options.

Written by