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Dim view of headlights


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POSTED: Saturday, November 21, 2009

QUESTION: Why do 99.9 percent of people who drive at night use their high beams?

This makes me crazy because it is not only thoughtless, it is unsafe for the driver in the oncoming lane who is temporarily blinded.

Isn't this against the law?

I recall a question on the Hawaii driver's license test that asked how far in advance you are supposed to lower your high beams. (I think the answer was 250 yards.) I live on the North Shore. No matter how well lit or how dark Kamehameha Highway is, everyone coming toward me and everyone behind me has their brights on. The problem of tailgating is at epic proportions, especially in high visitor areas like the North Shore. Since the driver behind me has his high beams on, I am also being blinded by the lights in my rearview mirror. I have never met anyone who has received a ticket or warning for not dimming their high beams to oncoming traffic. Why?

ANSWER: If you believe nearly everyone driving is using their high beams, it may be because you're driving a low-slung car.

“;Certainly not 99.9 percent of the drivers use their high beams all the time,”; said an official with the state Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Safety Office.

He noted that pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles are popular and generally higher than cars, especially sports cars: “;This makes it seem like the person in the higher vehicle has the high beams on, when in fact he or she does not.”;

Section 15-19.17 of the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu addresses the use of lights and “;glaring rays.”;

That section requires that, beginning a half-hour after sunset and at least until a half-hour before sunrise, drivers “;use a distribution of light, or composite beam, directed high enough and of sufficient intensity to reveal persons and vehicles at a safe distance in advance of the vehicle, subject to the following requirements and limitations.”;

Among them, and the requirement pertinent to your complaint: Whenever a driver of a vehicle approaches within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle, “;such driver shall use a distribution of light or composite beam so aimed that the glaring rays are not projected into the eyes of the oncoming driver.”;

Regarding questions about high beams in the Hawaii driver's license test, the number of feet at which you are supposed to switch your high beams to low beams is not specified.

The Motor Vehicle Safety Office official says that he, too, is often bothered by lights on higher vehicles. But, in his experience driving a relatively low vehicle, he says “;the discomfort does not come from high beams; rather, it comes from the newer high-intensity lights mounted on relatively high vehicles.”;

He explained that “;these lights give off more light than the older halogen lights, but they are made with a very sharp vertical edge. The light is not intense above the edge, but below it the light is very bright.”;

If you're bothered by oncoming bright lights, he advises looking to the right side of your lane rather than straight ahead or looking directly at the oncoming vehicle.

If the lights from the vehicle in back of your car appear too bright, he says to flip the tab on your center rear view mirror so the light is not shining directly into your eyes.

“;Sometimes it is even necessary to adjust a side mirror,”; he said.

“;These are only small inconveniences compared to the discomfort they can eliminate.”;

According to statistics from the Traffic Violations Bureau, 139 citations for driving with high beams on within 500 feet of an approaching vehicle have been handed out by the Honolulu Police Department in the past 10 years on Oahu, as of Oct. 31.

A low of four were given in 2002, but so far this year, 22 citations had been tallied.

Of the 139, 51 resulted in “;judgments for the state”; or guilty verdicts.

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