Does Wearing Sunglasses Constitute Reasonable Care?

There is a principle within U.S. jurisprudence known as ‘reasonable care’. It is a principle often used to determine liability in car accidents. For example, did a driver’s lack of reasonable care lead to the accident in question? Unfortunately, the reasonable care principle is subjective. Consider an accident caused by bright sunlight.

One such accident recently occurred in the Clarksville, Tennessee area. News reports say that a woman driving a Nissan SUV accidentally slammed into the back of a stopped fire truck at about 7 AM. Fortunately, the driver of the SUV wasn’t seriously injured. Police reports say the woman did not see the fire truck because she was partially blinded by the morning sunlight. She was issued a citation for “failure to use reasonable care.”

Was she using her visor to block the sun? We don’t know. Was she wearing sunglasses? We don’t know that either. For the sake of argument, let’s say she was using her visor but not wearing sunglasses. Would sunglasses have made a difference? Would she not have been cited for a reasonable care violation had she been wearing a pair of aviators or wayfarers?

How Sunglasses Can Help

Answering the reasonable care question requires that we first understand how sunglasses can help in such situations. For that we turn to Olympic Eyewear, a Salt Lake City company that designs more than a dozen brands of fashion sunglasses sold throughout the United States.

Olympic Eyewear explains that a good pair of sunglasses does two things for drivers. First, they filter out a certain amount of direct sunlight in order to allow the wearer to see more clearly. Second, assuming the lenses are polarized, sunglasses also cut down on the glare that occurs when sunlight reflects off pavement, a car’s hood, etc. Polarized sunglasses also make it easier to see on sunny days.

The combination of both effects should, in theory, make driving safer. Whether or not sunglasses alone could prevent any of the sun-related car accidents routinely reported in the news is a matter of debate. Sunglasses are inanimate objects that can only do so much.

A Combination of Factors

It is true that sunglasses can make it a lot easier to see behind the wheel. But even the best sunglasses will be of limited benefit if you’re looking directly into the sun as it’s just coming up. What makes sunlight so bright early in the morning is the intensity of light waves as the sun gradually makes its way above the horizon. Making matters worse is the fact that the sun is low enough in the sky to be just about at eye level.

It would seem, based on what we know about sunglasses and direct sunlight, that reasonable care would actually be a combination of factors. Wearing sunglasses can contribute to reasonable care, but they do not constitute reasonable care on their own.

Exercising reasonable care while driving against bright sunlight also involves things like speed, distance, and making use of the visor. We do not know the details of the Tennessee crash, so it’s inappropriate to try to determine whether the driver used reasonable care. That is for a court to decide. For the rest of us though, wearing sunglasses behind the wheel – during the daylight hours of course – is just good sense.

An added bonus is found in the UV protection sunglasses offer. Not only do quality shades contribute to reasonable care, they also protect the eyes against damaging rays that could lead to all sorts of vision problems. Wearing sunglasses is a win on both counts.

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