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October 31, 2002

Just Add Water

"Just Add Water." I remember titling a blog entry the same way a year or two ago and it had to do with Hawaii's motorists' difficulty with driving in inclement weather conditions. Being blessed with beautiful sunny and dry weather for about 90% of the year, we're not accustomed to having to deal with the elements while behind the wheel. Today's traffic fiasco was simply further evidence to this assumption.

A 42-car pileup today on the freeway delayed motorists for hours and turned the H-1 freeway into a parking lot. Believed to have been caused by the heavy rain, glare from the morning sun, and driver inattentiveness, this accident is one of the worst that I can recall. Surprisingly enough, no one was killed or seriously injured.

On a normal day, I would have been driving on this very freeway at about that time. Had I not been required to take photographs and be on-site IT Support at a conference in Waikiki, I would have been stuck smack dab in the middle of this mess. Who knows, I might have been car #43 in that accident. Thank God for small (and big!) miracles.

I hope that none of our HawaiiStories ohana was caught up in this jam this morning.

Posted by at October 31, 2002 05:14 PM


Posted by NemesisVex on October 31, 2002 8:05 PM:

42-car pile up? That's what happens in Austin when a milimeter of ice forms on I-35. What the hell kind of weather is Hawai´i having to warrant a 42-car pile-up? And Hawai´i drivers are waaaaaay better than these idiot Austin drivers.

Posted by Donna on October 31, 2002 8:15 PM:

I didn't even think the weather was all that bad to cause such a big pile up. I must admit, however, that the glare in the morning when the roads are wet can be pretty fierce. (Personally, I think a lot of it has to do with the way that many people tailgate the car in front of them when they're in a hurry to get through rush hour traffic, but that's just IMHO.) Luckily, it was mostly just a bunch of fender benders.

Posted by Ryan on October 31, 2002 9:25 PM:

Donna, I've always felt the same way! I mean, this is Hawaii! A subtropical climate, and islands which contain many rainforests (and one island is home to the wettest city on Earth). We have a lot of rain during our rainy season, every single year...

Yet, when the first drops of water hit the road, it's like the brains of most drivers melt right out of their heads. It's as if they'd never seen rain before!

Still, this morning's wreck was something. My office tried to hold a press conference this morning, but most of the journalists were swept away to cover the accident!

Meanwhile, Greg, I still refuse to believe you when you say Hawaii drivers are good, comparatively. Of course, I haven't driven in many other places... but to think there are places messier than the mayhem I see on the H-1 every day is just frightening.

Posted by Lisa on November 1, 2002 8:27 AM:

When I saw the headlines, I thought it had to be a typo- 42 cars?? It's amazing no one was seriously injured in all that mess.

I agree with Greg- drivers here are better in tune with the elements. In SoCal, half an inch of rain can cause 42 separate accidents on the 10 freeway, for example (but then, it rains maybe four or five times a year, total).

Yesterday afternoon there was a major, huge-loud-raindrop downpour on the Pali, and drivers slowed down and backed off. In my 2 years of Pali commuting, I've seen plenty of bad weather and very few accidents. I guess Windward drivers are a bit more used to driving in rain, and a bit more laid back about getting there.

Posted by Linkmeister on November 1, 2002 8:56 AM:

Every locality seems to react badly to weather. When I lived in DC, which after all is on the Eastern seaboard and at somewhat higher latitudes than Hawai'i, the citizens absolutely forgot how to drive when there was an inch of snow or two on the ground (or even falling, for that matter). Don't even ask me about Tucson the year it got three inches of the white stuff downtown.

Posted by NemesisVex on November 1, 2002 1:56 PM:

The thing I dislike most about Hawaii drivers is that they can be way too polite to the point of breaking the rules of the road just to give a little aloha. Austin drivers, on the other hand, are plain fucking stupid. Some of the most basic rules of the road -- making left turns from right lanes??? -- are just beyond Austin drivers' comprehension.

Posted by macpro on November 1, 2002 9:43 PM:

It rains all the time on the Big Island's Hamakua Coast and Hilo... to most Big Island drivers, rain is no big thing. They can handle it... even huge big rainstorms where visibility is like only a few feet in front of the car. Couple that with fog in areas like Waimea/Kamuela or Volcano, and you have quite a hazardous situation... yet Big Island drivers handle it fairly well. I know I do...

Probably the difference between the Big Island and Oahu is the fact that Oahu's traffic is more dense, which probably means people are more prone to accidents especially if the weather goes bad.

Posted by Ryan on November 2, 2002 10:12 AM:

Good point, Macpro. I lived in Hilo for a couple of years, and was impressed with the... confidence of Big Island drivers under unusually adverse conditions. But you're also right that the lack of serious congestion (except in "downtown") makes it less likely you'll hit someone.

On the other hand, I always felt there was one trade off. While I might have imagined it, I remember reading that while the number of accidents on the Big Island is obviously lower than in Honolulu, the percentage that are fatal is higher. And that always made sense to me. On the long, narrow highways in Volcano or Kona, speeds in excess of 100 m.p.h. are not uncommon. And yet, there are hidden driveways everywhere, and little pockets of development where trucks and cars speeding through are a big problem.

Posted by mitchell on November 2, 2002 10:20 AM:

It wasn't the rain. It was the glare. If you've been on that stretch of road at that time, you know the glare from the sun is terrible, and it's made way, way worse when there's water on the freeway. And if your windshield isn't clean, it's even worse.

Then, too, you're coming around a turn. I've narrowly avoided rear-ending people right on that very stretch of road because of a combination of these things. I don't think I'd attribute this terrible accident to bad driving--I think it's the kind of thing that could have happened to anyone.

Posted by lisa on November 5, 2002 9:34 AM:

And you thought it was bad here.. 198 car pileup closes 710. Fortunately no one was killed in that pileup either.

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