The View from Faraway Farm: Cutting through the night
In my younger days, I simply drove too fast. I'd go somewhere with my father and he'd sit over there in the passenger's seat and offer little nuggets of wisdom, as well as a rolling critique of my driving. He was certainly qualified, having been a Vermont Motor Vehicle Inspector and a trucking company safety manager. His job was evaluating drivers and investigating the cause of accidents. I knew how to drive before I ever drove, thanks to the literature and 8mm films that my father brought home for us to see. One of the things that my old man would harp about was over-driving the headlights. This occurs when you are going faster than the bubble of light from your headlights can reveal road hazards in your path. I remember thinking that the headlights that the manufacturers equipped the cars with from the factory should be a whole lot better. I wasn't taking into account the fact that most automobiles weren't being operated in rural Vermont, where oncoming vehicles were fewer than the constant stream in urban areas. Too much light impairs the vision of the drivers you meet.
Being an avid reader of magazines like Road & Track and Car & Driver, I soon learned that auxiliary lighting was the answer. In those days, the big driving light brands that advertised in the magazines were Cibie (pronounced "see-bee-ayy") and Hella. Both companies are still producing auxiliary lighting. My first set of these lights were Hellas, and I loved the increased visibility. I was born with severe astigmatism, so vision has always been a challenge for me. Anything that would enhance my vision was more than welcome. Other than helping me drive even faster, I found that auxiliary lighting increased the margin of safety for night driving. During the years of raising a family I rarely had the money for extras like driving lights, but nowadays I try to equip my vehicles with the lighting I had to deny myself in the past.
Advances in light technology in the past decade or so have been amazing. You can spend crazy amounts of money on HID (high-intensity discharge) lighting, but the old standard Hella 500 driving lights have evolved as well, and still offer huge value for the money. With the flick of a switch, you can cut through the night with a swath of light that illuminates nearly a mile ahead of you. Remember that moose eyes do not reflect like the eyes of a deer, so at night you need all the help you can get to avoid a potentially tragic meeting on the road. Driving lights truly help.
I just sold a Volvo 240 that had a set of Hella 500's wired to come on with the high beams. There is also a switch to completely disable the Hellas. I will miss that set-up, but I am duplicating it on my Toyota 4Runner. One of the problems I find with mounting these lights is having the right bumper set-up. Today's cars have smooth plastic covers instead of traditional bumpers, making the mounting of auxiliary lighting a challenge. Bull bars and brush guards are usually the mounting solutions, but they can be very expensive. I recently found an auxiliary light bracket that mounts in the holes for your front license plate. What a great, low-cost solution. I'll be using it on the 4Runner.
My off-road-capable Jeep Cherokee XJ has a custom winch bumper on it. I had a cheap set of Cree LED lights mounted on it, and for only $40.00 they function really well as fog lights. Still, a good set of Hella 500's is in its future. Auxiliary lighting isn't for everyone, but as we age, our night driving vision degrades. With new technology, you can have the standard headlights on your vehicle upgraded, or you can go with auxiliary lighting with better mounting options. For me, there's nothing like the confidence you get with lights that cut through the night.
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