Wednesday, Oct. 04, 2023|
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Hawaii now has steeper fines for motorists caught who use cellphones or other mobile electronic devices while driving.
Gov. David Ige recently signed House Bill 1692 into law, which went into effect on July 1.
The measure raised the fine for the use of a cellphone or mobile electronic device while driving from $250 to $300. In addition, if the infraction takes place while driving in a school zone or construction area, the penalty is hiked from $300 to $400.
The fines are to be deposited into the state highway fund.
The legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Henry J.C. Aquino, a leeward Oahu Democrat, was endorsed by the state Department of Transportation and AAA Hawaii.
Data submitted by the DOT indicates that from 2016-2020, 109 of 408 fatal crashes in Hawaii, or 22%, involved a distracted driver.
“Distracted driving is a significant highway threat, responsible for over 3,000 fatalities each year nationwide,” according to testimony submitted by two representatives of AAA Hawaii. “This behavior in school or construction zones is especially concerning given the vulnerable population at stake. We need more disincentives to discourage motorists from taking unnecessary risks while behind the wheel.”
The Tribune-Herald requested citation statistics from the Hawaii Police Department for drivers caught using cellphones or other mobile electronic devices from 2017-2021, but records for full years prior to 2019 weren’t available due to a computer glitch.
In 2019, the earliest year full records were available, 2,490 citations were written. In 2020, 2,535 citations were issued. In 2021, the numbers increased sharply to 3,602 citations.
For the first half of 2022, officers wrote 1.519 tickets for drivers using cellphones or other mobile devices. If that trend holds for the remainder of the year, that would be more than 3,000 citations for motorists talking on their phones, texting, using social media or watching videos while driving.
Torey Keltner, the HPD’s Traffic Services Section program manager, said he couldn’t explain the increase in citations during the novel coronavirus pandemic, but expressed his approval of the new law.
“Distracted driving is a huge problem … and one that’s very easily controllable is not using an electronic device,” Keltner said. “We know that there have been some very bad crashes, all over the country, that could’ve been avoided.
“There are things that people can do, and one of those things, if you have a problem with it, is to take the cellphone and put it in the back seat before you’re driving, so you won’t be tempted. Because it only takes a fraction of a second for a massive, life-altering event to happen.”
Keltner said he hopes the increased hit to the pocketbooks will be a deterrent for drivers who use cellphones and mobile devices while behind the wheel.
“I think there are people that, for them to understand and take into consideration the changes they have to make, it has to hurt them somehow,” Keltner said. “And that bigger fine is going to hurt a little bit more.”
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