Hawaii bans distracted driving

Governor Neil Abercrombie of HawaiiDistracted driving has been illegal throughout Hawaii for several years, thanks to bans on each of the islands. Now the state has outlawed text messaging and the use of handheld cell phones while driving, in a move that’s partly symbolic and mostly practical.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed Act 74 on May 20, saying the new Hawaii law “establishes consistency across the state … simplifying enforcement and likewise making our highways and roadways safer.”

Hawaii becomes the 40th state to ban text messaging while driving, and the 11th to outlaw handheld cell phone use while behind the wheel. The statewide distracted driving law goes into effect July 1, but ticketing continues at the local level until then.

The U.S. Department of Transportation had listed Hawaii as one of the 11 states without a ban on text messaging by all drivers. Last year, Hawaii’s individual counties issued almost 21,000 distracted driving tickets under laws they adopted separately.

About 10 percent of Hawaiian auto fatalities were caused by distracted drivers in the years 2007-2010, the state Department of Health reports.

Abercrombie (pictured) also signed into law a requirement that all front seat and back seat occupants must use seat belts, effective immediately.

“People are injured or dying each year simply because they were not paying attention to the road,” DOT Director Glenn Okimoto said of the distracted driving law. “The possibility of causing a crash that could ruin lives is just too great.”

Hawaii’s state-level attention to the issue is relatively new. In April, it participated in the Distracted Driving Month awareness event, and is now taking part in the “Click It or Ticket” enforcement campaign, a crackdown done in conjunction with the counties and supported by federal funding.

The state-level laws make Hawaii eligible for future highway funding from the federal level.

A state PSA campaign advises: “End distracted driving, before it ends you.”

Oahu County (Honolulu) writes by far the most tickets for distracted driving. Its law went into effect in 2009. Maui, Kauai and the Big Island all banned distracted driving in 2010.

Gov. Abercrombie took the “It can wait” pledge not to text & drive last year, but it too was symbolic: the governor doesn’t drive.

Read about the history of distracted driving laws in Hawaii.

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