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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fog happens, even in Hawaii

By Lee Cataluna

It's not what you were thinking. There aren't legions of lolos driving around Hilo in the dead of night without the good sense to turn on their headlights.

Last week, a press release was issued from the South Kohala District of the Hawai'i Police Department, reminding Big Island drivers to turn on their headlights. O'ahu drivers had a good laugh. The item was posted on the Advertiser Web site as "breaking news" and remained the most viewed story for days. The story generated gleeful speculation in the online comment section:

Must be the druggies driving around in their junkalunka rust buckets, not realizing that it's night.

Must be the economy. People's headlights burn out and they can't afford to get them replaced.

Must be the vog making everyone forgetful.

Turns out it's not the vog, it's the fog.

Police Capt. James Sanborn, of the South Kohala District, said that "We've received complaints and have had accidents relating to inclement weather conditions and visibility issues." On the Hāmākua Coast during this time of the year, fog rolls in during the early evening hours when it might seem there's still enough sunlight to drive without headlights.

"And on Saddle Road, often you gotta have your headlights on even on a clear day," Sanborn said.

The Saddle Road is a deserted stretch that weaves and dips through black lava fields. It is the site of many accidents, including single-car crashes.

The other factor is the expectation of people who have moved to the Kohala area from the Mainland versus the aesthetic of those who have driven in Big Island rain and fog for generations. In many Mainland states, the law requires headlights to be on during the rain. On the Big Island, the habit is more "rain equals windshield wipers, headlights are for when it's dark."

So the press release was a reminder that the law in Hawaii County also requires turning on your car lights when you can't see stuff.

"Hawai'i County Code Section 24-34 requires that every vehicle upon a highway within the county at any time, from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise, and at any other time, when due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, persons and vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of five hundred feet ahead shall display lighted lamps and illuminating devices."

Which is a County Code way of saying you gotta turn on your headlights when get rain or fog, even if it's still daytime. But no, people in Hilo weren't driving around in the dark. That's only on H-2 by Kīpapa Gulch.