Monday, April 2, 2012

Fog Lights in the Sangre de Cristos

California’s San Joaquin Valley, around Fresno and Bakersfield, can be incredibly foggy in the winter.  In the mid-70’s I was living near Shaver Lake and frequently had to travel through this fog which can be frightening.  Fatal accidents are not uncommon as sometimes drivers literally can’t see stop signs, traffic lights and sharp curves until the last moment.

Because of this, when I got a new truck in 1975, I installed a set of fog lights under the front bumper.  Fog lights are a headlight modified by shaping the light’s lens so that the beam is broad, flat and low.  Sort of a fan shaped beam (a regular headlight has a conical beam).  This keeps the light from hitting the fog, rain or snow directly in front of the driver’s eyes and puts more illumination on the road.  The lower you can mount the fog lights the better.

The proper way to use fog light is to turn on the vehicle’s parking lights, leaving the regular headlights off, and using the fog lights alone to illuminate the road.

After I installed the fog lights, I often drove in fog and especially on snowy nights and knew that my fog lights worked well, but their effectiveness was really illustrated to me one night driving through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado. 

I was on Highway 160 going over La Veta Pass late at night, eastbound, heading for Colorado Springs.  The snow was coming down pretty hard, but I was able to drive “normal” considering the slipperiness of a snow covered road.  I had the fog lights on and the headlights off.  Every time I came upon an eastbound vehicle, they were just crawling along.  As soon as there was a reasonably straight section of road, I was easily passing them.

I was genuinely puzzled why the other drivers were going so slow.  I must have passed 50 cars in a half hour or so.  Coming down the eastside of the pass I came upon a “train” of very slowly moving cars, trucks and semis.  They were following each other so closely I had trouble passing because there was so little room to pull back into the proper lane after passing a vehicle.

I was finally able get around all of them and said to my traveling companion, “I wonder why they’re going so slow? The snow isn’t that slippery and while the snow’s coming down hard, visibility is OK.”

As I said this I wondered if the fog lights were helping.  I reached down and flipped on the headlights.  It was shocking.  There was a huge wall of snowflakes right in front of my truck.  I couldn’t see a thing.  I quickly snapped off the headlights and all returned to normal.  My companion and I erupted in laughter.  Neither of us could believe what a difference the fog lights made.

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