Home » Those Hawaiian Buses That Show The ‘Hang Loose’ Sign At The Rear Represent A Significant Taillight Evolution

Those Hawaiian Buses That Show The ‘Hang Loose’ Sign At The Rear Represent A Significant Taillight Evolution

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A couple days ago, I was in my local taillight bar, the Scarlet Lantern, for their annual Valentine’s Day Center High Mount Stop Light (CHMSL)-themed drug orgy/buffet, when I noticed an animated discussion happening around the hydration station booth. I clambered my way over the red-flashing revelers to the booth to see what was going on. A number of people were looking at some large printouts of what appeared to be a tweet or whatever they’re called now, with a picture of the rear of a bus that had a screen displaying a pixelated hand making the “hang loose” sign. The discussion – well, let’s be honest here, argument edging into scuffle territory – was about whether or not this represented a new development in the taillight world. It’s a good question!

First, some backstory. Here’s that tweet:

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Vidframe Min Bottom

So, what’s going on here is if you let a bus in Hawaii merge in front of you, the driver, as a way of showing appreciation, has the option to hit a switch that makes the little display on the back of the bus that normally shows number or route information display a hang loose sign, also known as a “shaka.” The thread even included a picture of the switch itself:

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First, that’s cool as hell. It’s just fun. Also, I didn’t realize what the origins of the Shaka gesture were; according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, they’re a little more grim than you’d guess:

But as to its origins, the prevailing local lore is that it originated with Hamana Kalili of Laie, who lost the middle three fingers on his right hand during an accident at the old Kahuku Sugar Mill.

Kalili’s grandnephew Vonn Logan, who works for Brigham Young University-Hawaii’s Department of Continuing Education, explained that Kalili’s job was to feed sugar cane into the rollers, which would squeeze out the juice. He lost his fingers when his hand got caught in the rollers, Logan said. Because he could no longer work in the mill, he became a security guard on the sugar train that used to travel between Sunset Beach and Kaaawa.

“One of his jobs was to keep all the kids off the train,” Logan said. “All the kids would try to jump the train to ride from town to town. So they started signaling each other. Since (Kalili) lost his fingers, the perfect signal was what we have now as the ‘shaka sign.’ That’s how you signaled the way was clear.”

I wouldn’t have guessed an industrial accident was at the origins of this normally very upbeat gesture, but here we are.

It seems Honolulu’s municipal bus service, known as TheBus, has had buses equipped with pixelated shakas since 2013. If you want to know what the experience of riding on what appears to be an empty TheBus bus is like, this gleefully boring video should give you some idea:

Wow, that’s a dull video! Amazing!

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Michelle Kennedy, who was marketing and communications director for Oahu Transit Services told Honolulu magazine about 10 years ago that

“The drivers of the new buses have a little switch they can hit that flashes the shaka on the back sign. In the old buses, you have to lean out the window and stick your arm out into traffic to say thanks. This just makes it a lot easier.”

That does make things easier. But what I’m most interested in is the question that was leading up to fisticuffs by the very high and sweaty patrons of the Scarlet Lantern: does this qualify as a taillight?

Now, the normal use of that dot-matrix display is for informational text: bus number/route, etc. and that disqualifies it from taillight status, as it has different goals: to inform, as opposed to communicating action or intent or status, like taillights do.

Let’s think about what a taillight, as a communication tool, does: it communicates actions, like stopping, it communicates intent to commit actions in the near future, like a turn indicator or perhaps even a reverse lamp. It also communicates presence, as in the case of a basic red taillight running lamp or marker lamps, and it can communicate a state of being, with hazard lights, that convey the idea of being in peril or being extra cautious.

The display of the shaka graphic is similar to hazard lights, in that it communicates a state of being: appreciative, with some easygoing goodwill. The method used is different in that it requires a specific, identifiable shape as opposed to a color and/or behavior – in the case of hazard lights, amber and flashing. But I think fundamentally what the shaka display is doing is not appreciably different from what hazard lights do, just communicating a very different sentiment.

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So, I think, in this fight, I’d have to be on the side of those who feel the shaka display is an evolution of the taillight; it’s still fundamentally doing taillight-like tasks, being the means of communication from the driver to the rear of the vehicle, and the innovation – the use of a display to render an identifiable shape – still fits in the taillight category. Keep in mind that recognizable arrows have been used in lots of bus taillights before. Is this any different?

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So, I think what we’re seeing on these Hawaiian buses represents a fascinating taillight development, and should be watched closely. This also means I was right to hit that guy with a folding chair who didn’t agree with me.

 

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TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
2 months ago

Since I haven’t seen anyone mention it here,

It isn’t a taillight. It’s called a “Destination sign”. There’s 3 on most city buses. One above the windshield, one on the curbside of the bus, just aft of the entrance door, and one on the rear. The one on the rear typically just displays the route number but they can be programmed for all sorts of stuff.

Cost is minimal to add that switch. Your average bus is typically about half a mil to buy and they’re hand built to the specifics of what your individual transit agency wants. If you want 40 buses with a “shaka” switch, the mgfr won’t even blink cause they custom build every single bus in batches.

Source: I’m a technical instructor and former diesel mechanic that currently works for a transit agency.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
2 months ago

Question, probably for JT but really for anyone:
Are all lights on the back of the vehicle “taillights” and some are also turn signals and/or brake lights or are some of the lights back there tail lights and some of the lights back there not tail lights?
What about backup/reverse lamps?

If one big hunk of plastic and illuminating electrical hardware aggregates the functions of turning, braking, and backing up indication as well as the “this space is already filled with car, there is no room for another , please maintain an adequate distance” functionality is it called a taillight or something else?

Razzmatazz
Razzmatazz
2 months ago

I gotta be a pedant about that tweet (xeet? Whatever) of the shaka switch for a minute: Buttons are switches too! The picture is of a *toggle* switch, surely a momentary one so the driver can flick and forget it. Just out of frame there appears to be a guarded toggle switch which – quite frankly – can be far more interesting than a simple momentary toggle switch. Does the guard maintain the toggle handle in the position the driver placed it in when it’s flipped down, or does it reset it to a known position? We may never know now. There’s a whole wide world of switches out there that are just as varied as taillights, if not moreso!

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
2 months ago
Reply to  Razzmatazz

I have seen off-on-momentary on switches used as ignition switches instead of a key. Also just start switches covered by a protective guard so that you don’t accidentally engaged the starter motor. Or maybe it’s just the 50 caliber machine gun switch. You’d want a guard on that I would imagine.

Ron888
Ron888
2 months ago

Someone should hack it so it gives the bird..
(Scuse my childish sense of humor)

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago

Ah shit. Another thing to trigger a culture war. )-:

Parsko
Parsko
2 months ago

To me, by far the biggest deal about this is the dedicated button. This isn’t just a button that connects the battery to a bulb in a housing. This button goes to an input pin of a microcontroller. Someone got PAID to do this, and not a small trivial amount. This, my friend, is the bigger story. Of COUUURSe this is a taillight. We need to find the guy who executed the action of adding this feature, please. It’s only 11 years old, they must exist.

Noodles Gargamel
Noodles Gargamel
2 months ago
  1. The thumb is to stubby. That bothers me.
  2. Torch, you’re in no condition to get in bar fights. Cut it out.
Temple Of Toyoda
Temple Of Toyoda
2 months ago

Northern nj/nyc metro here, what is this ‘let merge’? Also we go around slow/stopping buses, no one will get anywhere if we’re courteous, it’s a disservice to drivers behind us. This is hard to turn off when we leave our native roadways, apologies. Wish we had some Shaka energy here but light honking might be the best we can do.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
2 months ago

We were on a bus coming into Waikiki and at a merge, the truck next to us waved the bus driver forward. He gave the truck driver a shaka and both smiled.

I ride motorcycles and when I pass people, I give them either “friendly wave” or “shaka” as a thank you. Cars with surfboards always get the shaka.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
2 months ago
Reply to  Dudeoutwest

On a beautiful day on a very fun road, I was driving the f-150 and saw a Lotus come up behind me. Next passing zone I made room and waved them around and they gave me a shaka. Good vibes all around.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
2 months ago

The real downside of this is when a bus cuts you off, lights up the display like he’s gonna give you the Shaka sign, then just goes right back to the route number. It’s a horrible misdirection.

They call it the Shaka Con.

Andy Farrell
Andy Farrell
2 months ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Just, wow.

T.B.A.
T.B.A.
2 months ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

I regret that I have but one smiley face to give.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Son of a

Geo Metro Mike
Geo Metro Mike
2 months ago

This is a lot cooler than the “thanks for the break” bumper sticker.

Chronometric
Chronometric
2 months ago

I create electronic products with dense high-intensity LED displays. I have often considered making myself a rear-mounted display with several animated symbols and a selection controller for the driver. But I don’t trust my self control with the button and Georgia is an open carry state. I’d be shot dead within a week.

Last edited 2 months ago by Chronometric
Kimchi Cowboy
Kimchi Cowboy
2 months ago

As. Hawaii resident, thanks for showing some love our way!

But yeah, the Shaka is used by drivers in the same way as the bus. Just a universal sign of appreciation (and hellos, good-byes, excitement, etc.). Just hope you don’t get one of these: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CrB8-G0Mmxm/?igsh=a2Ntd3ozOW5zenk3 🙂

Last edited 2 months ago by Kimchi Cowboy
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Kimchi Cowboy

Wtf is the matter with her

Tbird
Tbird
2 months ago

Please take care of your heart health at the local bar orgy! Don’t overdo it this early in the game.

John Longenecker
John Longenecker
2 months ago
Reply to  Tbird

Hopefully he helped himself to aspirin and perhaps plavix at the drug buffet

Tbird
Tbird
2 months ago

To quote the late Toby Keith, “I’m not as good as once was; but I’m good once, as I ever was.” Now in my late 40’s I can relate.

121gwats
121gwats
2 months ago

Driving in Honolulu its common place for someone to cut you off (merging into your lane) while simultaneously giving you the “shaka” out the window. It quickly deescalates and all is immediately well, very effective.

VanGuy
VanGuy
2 months ago

As a side note, I think there’s a major downside to those arrow turn signals on buses…

I recall years ago driving on a two-lane (each direction) road near me and seeing a bus’s turn signal in front and to the right of me. Needs to get in the left lane? Okay, I’ll slow down and let them go in front of me…and slow down…and slow down….oh. They’re stopped and now I’m just an asshole to the people behind me as I start to accelerate again. Oh, that wasn’t the turn signal, that was their hazard lights because they were slowing to pick people up.

Having it still showing moving arrows feels antithetical to the function of hazard lights. The boxes should just be filled solid for that function, I think.

I still dream of a car that has 4 of each taillight with maximum segregation of duties.

Per side: two turn signals, two reverse lights, two taillights, two brake lights, two hazard lights.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
2 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

Ah, the dream

DysLexus
DysLexus
2 months ago

The equally dark story about the Shaka sign that I heard in 1993 visiting Hawaii was that it was a from the hand wave by residents of the Leper colony. Many Hawaiian had leprosy and people would lose fingers. It then became a symbol later on as a reminder of their past.

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
2 months ago

I’m more amazed that Hawaiian bus drivers communicate appreciation. Here in Chicago, bus drivers just…do. What happens if you’re in its path is between you and the Lord.

OttosPhotos
OttosPhotos
2 months ago

You’re supposed to throw a shaka when someone lets you in. Corollary is you’re supposed to let people in. It’s considered common courtesy.

Things are different on the islands 🙂

Geekycop .
Geekycop .
2 months ago
Reply to  OttosPhotos

Trying to carry that sentiment on the mainland can be rough, especially when you discover that your parents moved you to a place where morons don’t actually have to drive on real roads until their final test to get a license so they don’t accept the concepts of lane discipline or common courtesy. Oh you drive a classic car with 20k in custom paint that you scrimped and saved for for a decade? Too bad it’s not the standard mormon assault vehicle crammed with 15 guilt ridden sexually frustrated teenagers then maybe it could live for more than two weeks before it gets all beat to hell.

It’s been twenty years now and it still grates on me that I have to re-restore my buick because the idiots from when I lived in Utah destroyed it through their stupidity. It was damaged in my college parking lot while I was in class on three separate occasions because of people doing stupid things like turning donuts in a crowded parking lot, backing out of a space with an open door, and reversing into the space in front of me in a truck that had been lifted so far that they couldn’t see my car at all so they just guessed that it’d be fine. Never got a dime out of their insurance either because “Buick doesn’t have a model called an Apollo so we’ll only offer you $500 and total it out, or you can just fix it on your own.”

Chris D
Chris D
2 months ago
Reply to  Geekycop .

That’s when you file a lawsuit against the negligent driver at fault, and let him deal with the insurance company. It’s a bit late now, though.

Geekycop .
Geekycop .
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris D

Yes, a bit, but I’ve become much more legally savvy since 2004.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago
Reply to  Geekycop .

Wow that sucks…you’re not alone in your contempt towards morons, I mean Mormons…they think the world revolves around them and they think they’re the “true” religion…also hypocrites. They drive like maniacs in Utah at the same time they’re putting out the image of “good person”/never break the law. Also, that stupid grid setup of SLC is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen…”How do you get there?” “Oh, good down 400West, turn left on 700 East, turn right on 900 North, then left on 200 South” I know there’s a rhyme & reason to it, but I don’t care…have some actual road names. Utah is like heaven and hell, SLC is hell and southern Utah w/ all the parks is heaven. Also, I love SLC punk!
Your Buick sounds awesome- good luck restoring

Last edited 2 months ago by Freelivin1327
Geekycop .
Geekycop .
2 months ago
Reply to  Freelivin1327

Thanks. It was my first car so I’ll pass it to my son when he turns 16, he’ll then be the third owner from new.

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
2 months ago
Reply to  Geekycop .

OK you Utah boys, cool down. Of course I respect your Buick and its paint job. It’s too easy to blame Mormons for everything in our “pretty great “ state. Bad driving in Utah is undeniable but I think it’s universal. It’s science: the proportion of Mormons in the population is declining but the driving gets steadily worse.

Geekycop .
Geekycop .
2 months ago
Reply to  Slower Louder

That’s fair, my dad does talk about the decline of religiousness in general in Utah almost every time I go back to visit which is quite frequently.

My main complaint with Utah vs other places has been that they:

a) Drive a vehicle waaaaay too big for their skillset so they have no awareness of where it is on the road (note I did not say bigger than they need, they just need to understand that a Ram 2500 long bed drives a bit differently than the rav4 they traded in, take time to learn the vehicle and be safer.)

b) Can’t fix a road to save their lives, my little brother had a chunk of asphalt kick up from the car in front and tear the pan off of the transmission of the car he was driving a couple years ago.

c) They don’t pay any attention to traffic around them. In my experience yes everybody has their failures and bad habits but I’ve never been run off the road by somebody that just wasn’t paying attention anywhere else, but it had happened 7 times while I was living there, and another 5 times when I’ve come back to visit. The last time it happened it was actually a bus driver the just vaguely drifted across 3 lanes of traffic and pushed me into the center turn lane because I was next to him when he started moving and he just didn’t bother to turn his head. Never had it happen anywhere else, but it’s happened to me in Utah a lot.

Also if I caused offense I meant none toward anyone’s faith, I’m a live and let live person in that regard, I just have had really poor experiences with the culture of negligence as long as it looks like things are perfect that I’ve experienced in Utah.

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
2 months ago
Reply to  Geekycop .

Thanks and you did not offend. I saw a little Utah nexus forming and had to join in. Any criticism of Utah driving you want to offer, I will support. I live it daily. Sadly looks like we are currently bidding to be the new road rage capital. Shaka switches might help.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago
Reply to  Slower Louder

I don’t even live there, have just driven through in the past

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
2 months ago

I often have to remind myself that you really shouldn’t use hand gestures while driving, ever. The few times I tried to give a thumbs up or whatever… well you can imagine how that was inevitably interpreted. It’s tough to tell the difference from a distance.

So this display is pretty cool. Certainly can’t be misinterpreted at least.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
2 months ago

For several years I had a stock 1937 Plymouth sedan as my daily driver, so it had a tail and brake light (just one, on the left, as the one for the right was an added-cost option) but no turn signals. Fortunately hand signals are still legal* here but I learned fairly quickly that, for the most part, only motorcyclists and bicyclists had any idea what I was doing. Other people just waved back…

*Hand signals are legal here at all times for vehicles old enough not to have been built with turn signals and during daylight hours for newer vehicles, although the turn signals on newer vehicles are still required to be functional.

Chronometric
Chronometric
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

The first thing I did for my 1917 Stephens was to manufacture some old-looking turn signals, install an eye-burner LED bulb in the single brake light, and mount a red “slow vehicle” flasher that runs all the time. Now I can use my arms to wave at the people who either love the serendipity of seeing a 100 year old car or wish I would vaporize in a cloud of Brewster Green mist.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
2 months ago

“…that dot-matrix display is for informational text… and that disqualifies it from taillight status…”

Okay, but purely hypothetically, what about a CHMSL that uses a dot-matrix array of Lite-Brite-esque translucent plastic pegs to display the informational text that it is a CHMSL by means of the very act of illuminating itself as a CHMSL? Asking for a friend.

https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/52472774190_d011b247fc_c.jpg

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
2 months ago
Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

That’s awesome!!!

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Something that’s been bothering me to no end: how is CHMSL pronounced? Is it chimsel, like chisel with an m? Or is it see aitch em ess elle?

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
2 months ago

I pronounce it as sort of midway between “chimsel” and “chumsel” but with the vowel between the H and the M shortened to the point that it makes no real difference.

Last edited 2 months ago by Mike Harrell
Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
2 months ago

I imagine busses in NYC adopting the middle finger for their led display.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago

To me “Shaka” means “When the walls fell”.

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
2 months ago
Reply to  10001010

Temba, his arms wide.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago

Kayshon, his eyes open!

DysLexus
DysLexus
2 months ago
Reply to  10001010

Yes!!! Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra!

Dennis Birtcher
Dennis Birtcher
2 months ago
Reply to  DysLexus

Rapunki, when he joined the Seven

Myk El
Myk El
2 months ago
Reply to  DysLexus

One Night Only! Tickets going fast!

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
2 months ago
Reply to  10001010

I was trying to work out a “Shaka Khan” joke, but that works too.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Me too, but that was spelled Chaka so I went Tamarian.

Myk El
Myk El
2 months ago
Reply to  10001010

Was going to make a “Shaka when the bus merged” post, but went to look to see if there was already a Darmok joke present.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago
Reply to  Myk El

Shaka, her blinker unheeded.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
2 months ago

I mean it’s a light on the ‘tail’ of the bus to communicate something related to driving so yes, it’s a tail light. It’s neat!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago

Are there any other manual signaling choices available to the driver?

Phuzz
Phuzz
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

In the UK, some drivers will give you a single flash of the hazard lights to say thank-you.

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
2 months ago

These should be mandatory on all new vehicles.

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
2 months ago

I support this as long as there is also a middle finger light.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
2 months ago

Truckers do have a button and a thank you signal. We cut out the clearance lights real quickly twice at night to signal thank you. During the day we flash them on twice. And instead of using high beams to signal you can move back over, the old timers cut the headlights for a moment. The youngsters just use high beams, which suck due to those giant mirrors we have doing an excellent job of funneling light into my eyes.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
2 months ago

It is a shame that such protocols have been mostly lost. I learned them from mom and have taught them to our kids hopefully to keep progressing.

David Smith
David Smith
2 months ago

I can’t turn my headlights off at night so high beams flashed is the best I can do.

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