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Ranger checking a vehicle
Maunakea Ranger conducts a brake check

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Maunakea Rangers started conducting brake temperature checks in 2022 on all vehicles returning from the nearly 14,000-foot summit of Maunakea. The rangers proactively added the safety precaution after it was determined that three accidents on Maunakea Access Road in early 2022, including a fatal accident, were caused by brake failure.

An average of 50 to 100 vehicles travel to the summit each day, and about 30% of them checked at the Hale Pōhaku mid-level facility exceed a safe brake temperature reading. The rangers direct the drivers of those vehicles to park and allow their brakes to cool.

“This is just one example of how committed our rangers are to public safety,” said Greg Chun, the executive director of the UH Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship. “They identified this potentially deadly problem and implemented this now standard operating procedure that will ultimately save lives.”

The rangers collectively proposed adding the safety measure and requested the equipment needed to check brake temperature.

“At the end of the day, we want everyone to be able to return safely to their loved ones,&rdquo said Maunakea Ranger Oscar Pouoa. “This is our kuleana (responsibility) as rangers, and it’s not just about protecting the people who visit the mauna, but it’s about protecting this place.”

The rangers inspect every vehicle at the mid-level checkpoint before they are allowed to travel to the summit. The vehicles are checked for proper maintenance, brakes and to make sure they have four-wheel drive along with being screened for invasive species. On average, the rangers turn around more than 60% of vehicles inspected. Drivers who pass the inspection are advised to use low gear (or first gear) on their way back down. Not engaging low gear on the nine-mile long, steep, mostly gravel summit road can overheat brakes and cause them to fail.

Vehicle in the fog on Maunakea

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