KAILUA-KONA — Lights, Christmas trees, carols on the radio and crowded store parking lots are just a few of the sights and sounds of the holiday season.
However, an uptick in major car crashes also is a byproduct of this time of year.
Within the past 12 days, there have been three fatalities on the roads in West Hawaii — including two this weekend. Sgt. Thomas Koyanagi, Area II commander of the Hawaii Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement Unit, said police typically see an increase in major crashes from November to the first of the year.
“It seems people let their guard down because they’re wrapped up in the holiday season,” Koyanagi said. “They get distracted. They’re trying to do more multi-tasking.”
Along with that, there are just more people on the roads. And, Koyanagi added, alcohol sometimes plays a role in the number of crashes because there are more family get-togethers where alcoholic libations are often consumed.
In an effort to keep Hawaii’s roads safe, all four counties in the state are partnering with the state Department of Transportation to promote the national visibility enforcement campaign “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” The campaign’s goal is to keep impaired drunken or drugged drivers off the roads.
During the past five years, an average of 300 people died nationwide in drunk driving crashes during the period of Christmas through New Year’s, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In December 2016 alone, 781 people lost their lives in drunk driving crashes.
The campaign started a few days ago and ends on New Year’s Eve. On the Big Island, police efforts include increased patrols and sobriety checkpoints islandwide in addition to more public service announcements.
“Buzzed driving is still drunk driving because it’s still driving under the influence of an intoxicant,” Koyanagi said.
Koyanagi also provided tips for what community members can do to keep each other safe. One was to be a good host and don’t overserve alcohol at parties.
Police also advise people to wear their seat belts when in a vehicle and to avoid distracted driving. Those planning to drink should not drive, but rather have a designated driver or call for a ride.
“Even though it is the holiday season, drivers need to stay diligent. Be aware of who and what is around you. Focus on just driving because there are a lot of people on the road,” Koyanagi added.
The Hawaii Police Department also supports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s new campaign “If You Feel Different, You Drive Different.”
Officers want everyone to remember that drug-impaired driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015, 42 percent of drivers killed in fatal crashes who were tested, tested positive for drugs, police reported.
“Hawaii Police Department officers are out strictly enforcing the DUI laws to help prevent more people from being injured or killed,” the department said.
Deadly weekend on West Hawaii roads
After this weekend’s two fatal crashes, the official number of people killed this year on Big Island public roads stands at 31 compared with 32 by this time last year.
This weekend’s crashes happened 14 hours apart, with the first at 6:09 p.m. Friday.
According to police, the collision occurred at the intersection of Henry Street and Malulani Road in Kailua-Kona. A 57-year-old Kailua-Kona woman traveling in a light green Subaru station wagon attempted to make a left turn onto Malulani Road when “she was broadsided” by Gilbert Motta, 40, of Kailua-Kona, who was headed mauka on Henry Street on a black 2009 Yamaha motorcycle.
Motta, who was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, was transported to Kona Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:45 p.m. The driver of the Subaru was uninjured.
Police suspect speed and alcohol to be factors in the crash. An autopsy was ordered to determine the 40-year-old’s exact cause of death.
The second fatality occurred at 8:31 a.m. Saturday in Holualoa, near mile marker 7 on Mamalahoa Highway.
According to police, a 77-year-old Holualoa woman operating a green Subaru station wagon was attempting to make a left turn onto the highway, also known as Highway 180, from a private driveway. At that moment, police say, John Paul Simonsen, 45, of Waikoloa, traveling south on a red 2001 Honda motorcycle, lost control and grazed the vehicle after laying the bike down on the roadway.
Simonsen, who was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, was taken to Kona Community Hospital in critical condition and later died of his injuries, according to police. He was pronounced dead at 8:03 p.m.
Investigators think speed was a possible factor in the crash. An autopsy was ordered to determine the 45-year-old’s exact cause of death.
Witnesses to either crash are asked to contact Officer Justin Hooser at 326-4646, ext. 229.
Email Tiffany DeMasters at email@example.com.