Hawaii: cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: October 12, 2016
Cell phone, text messaging news: Law officers across Hawaii wrote more than 11,000 distracted driving tickets in 2014. Hawaii’s distracted driving law saw a set of changes go into effect July 1, 2014, with a base fine of $250 the headline item. The Legislature also made violations in school zone or construction areas subject to a $300 fine. Previously a first-time violation cost $100 while subsequent offenses within a year crept up to $300.

Hawaiian flag for cell phone information postThe revised Hawaiian distracted driving law also makes clear that drivers temporarily stopped for red lights or stop signs cannot use handheld electronic devices, but exempts those who are fully stopped. Offenses are now classified as traffic infractions, meaning a court appearance is not required.

In mid-2013, the state of Hawaii outlawed text messaging and use of handheld cell phones while driving, in a move that is partly symbolic and mostly logistical since electronic distracted driving already was illegal throughout the state.

Drivers under the age of 18 are barred from using handheld mobile electronics, even if in hands-free mode.

Current statewide prohibitions:

  • Text messaging prohibited while driving in Hawaii.
  • Use of handheld cell phones outlawed. Hands-free operation OK for adult drivers.
  • Drivers under age 18 prohibited from all uses of all mobile electronic devices.

Read Hawaii’s distracted driving law (PDF) | Commercial driver law.

Fines: $250. School and construction zone offenses $300. (2014 changes, before district court fees.)

Distracted driving legislation (2016):
House Bill 2723: Would prohibit pedestrians from crossing a street, road, or highway while using a mobile electronic device. Unanimous approval by Transportation Committee on Feb. 17. (Har)

2014 distracted driving notes:
The 2014 revisions of the statewide distracted driving law included making an offense a simple traffic offense: “We at the Legislature received a lot of complaints about the vagueness of the law and the severity of requiring violators to go to court,” said state Senator J Kalani English of the Transportation Committee. “It was never our intention to require violators to go to court instead of mailing in a fine.”

(There was some question about the effective date based on when the governor signed the law, Hawaiian media reports say.)

2014 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 2729: Changes fine for handheld cell phone use or texting while driving to $250. If violation occurs in a school zone or construction area, $300. Makes violations traffic offenses. Clarifies that drivers may not use handheld electronic devices if temporarily stopped, as if at a red light. Exempts fully stopped drivers. Approved by the full Senate on March 4. Amended and approved by the full House on April 8 (one nay vote). To conference committee. Approved by the House and Senate on April 29. Signed by the governor July 3 as Act 175. (English)

House Bill 1896: Makes changes to distracted driving law. Companion bill to SB 2729, above. (Yamane)

2013 distracted driving notes:
Hawaii became the 40th state to ban texting while driving. The law went into effect July 1, 2013, but drivers already faced tickets for distracted driving under county laws.

“The possibility of causing a crash that could ruin lives is just too great,” DOT Director Glenn Okimoto said as the state enacted its first distracted driving law in mid-May (via Act 74). “We are focusing on changing the behaviors of drivers through legislation, enforcement, public awareness and education — the same activities that have helped curb impaired driving and increased seat belt use.”

“The enactment of Hawaii’s distracted driving law establishes consistency across the state for the usage of mobile electronic devices while driving, simplifying enforcement and likewise making our highways and roadways safer,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said May 20, 2013, upon signing that law and another requiring seat belts for passengers.

The U.S. Department of Transportation had listed Hawaii as one of the 11 states without a ban on text messaging by all drivers, even though the practice was illegal via the counties. That ended with the July 1 statewide distracted driving law. In 2012, the counties issued almost 21,000 distracted driving tickets.

The state DOT is participating in the national “Click It or Ticket” enforcement campaign that runs May 20 to June 2.

Earlier, Gov. Neil Abercrombie dubbed April “Distracted Driving Month.”

That designation wouldn’t be news in many states — Distracted Driving Month debuted in 2012 — but this is the first year the Hawaii Department of Transportation is actively participating in the nationwide event. The HDOT plans a statewide media push about the perils of distracted driving, which includes a television PSA that advises: “End distracted driving, before it ends you.”

“As handheld electronic devices continue to become more prevalent, the temptation to use them while driving increases,” Abercrombie said March 19. “We all have a stake in this growing problem and we are all part of the solution.”

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

On Kauai, police issued 870 citations for electronic distracted driving in 2012.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation is renewing its efforts against distracted driving with a safety push in April. “We are focusing on changing the behaviors of drivers through legislation, enforcement, public awareness and education — the same activities that have curbed impaired driving and increased seat belt use,” DOT Director Glenn Okimoto said.

2013 distracted driving legislation:
HB 980: Bans the holding of mobile electronic devices such as cell phones while driving. Prohibited activities include texting, emailing, instant messaging, gaming. Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using these devices in hands-free mode. Does not include GPS installed in vehicle. Fines: $100 to $200 (first offense), $200 to $300 (second offense) and $300 to $500 (third and subsequent). Fines double in a school zone or construction area. Supersedes county (individual island) ordinances. Enacted as Act 74.

  • HB 980 legislative history: Approved unanimously by Transportation on Feb. 11 and by the Judiciary on Feb. 26. Approved by the House on March 5. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on March 18. Approved by the Senate in a 24-1 vote of April 9. Final approval by House on April 25. Signed by the governor May 20. Took effect July 1, 2013.

2012 distracted driving legislation (dead):
HB 623 (HD1): Makes it a petty misdemeanor to operate a motor vehicle while using a text messaging device or otherwise accessing the Internet. Provides for felony charges if injury or death results from violation. Voice-operated or hands-free technology OK. Recommended by the Transportation Committee on Feb. 7 and sent to the Judiciary Committee. Carried over from the 2011 session. (Evans)

HB 1184: Would direct state to turn over to county law enforcement any revenue from tickets issued for drivers’ use of mobile electronic devices. Carried over from the 2011 session (Tokioka)

2011-20012 distracted driving notes:
No distracted driving legislation succeeded at the state level in 2012.

Gov. Pete Abercrombie took the “It can wait” pledge not to text & drive. Best of intentions, but … Abercrombie doesn’t drive. “(Being a passenger) gives me a lot of chances to observe things (that drivers do),” Abercrombie told KHON. “The number of people texting while driving is astounding to me.”

Honolulu’s fine for use of handheld cell phones while driving increased to $147 on July 1, 2011. View the Honolulu distracted driving ordinance.

Oahu reaped more than $1.6 million in tickets over the first two years of its distracted driving law.

Distracted driving ticket totals as of June 2011 (law enactment month in parentheses):
Oahu County: 20,654 tickets (July 2009)
Hawaii County: 1,359 tickets (January 2010)
Kauai County: 930 tickets (May 2010)
Maui County: 964 tickets (July 2010)

source: Attorney General’s Office as reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Distracted drivers in Pearl City and Kalihi were the targets as Honolulu police ran a sweep on the weekend of June 24, 2011. Almost 110 citations were handed out for illegal use of cell phones while driving. Police said they would continue sweeps across the island.

Police say they’ve issued more than 20,000 citations (as of June 2011) since the Oahu county law against electronic distracted driving went into effect in the summer of 2009. In 2010, police issued 10,101 tickets. In the first four months of 2011, the number was 3,757.

Honolulu was looking into expanding its ban on using handheld electronic devices while driving to pedestrians. The ordinance (Bill 43) would have prohibited pedestrians from crossing streets while using mobile electronic devices such as a cell phones, video games, laptops or cameras. Local police opposed the distracted pedestrian plan as “over broad.” OK’d on first reading May 11 but appears dead.

2011 legislation (dead):
HB 623: Makes it a petty misdemeanor to operate a motor vehicle while using a text messaging device or otherwise accessing the Internet. Voice-operated or hands-free technology OK. Recommended by the Transportation Committee on Feb. 7 and sent to the Judiciary Committee. (Evans)

HB 1184: Would direct state to turn over to county law enforcement any revenue from tickets issued for drivers’ use of mobile electronic devices. (Tokioka)

2010 legislation notes:
Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares signed into law a ban on use of handheld electronic devices while driving. Fines for text messaging or using handheld cell phones while driving are a maximum of $100 (first offense) and then up to $250. The county law also bars drivers with restricted licenses from using cell phones, regardless of whether a hands-free device is employed.

“With motorists increasingly using unsafe practices like texting while driving, we find ourselves joining the state’s other counties in enacting this new law,” Maui’s Tavares said at the July 6 signing. Maui was the last of the state of Hawaii’s counties to adopt distracted driving laws.

The Maui County Council approved the distracted driving Bill 40 in a series of votes leading up to the mayor’s approval. The Maui Police Department said it would begin writing tickets immediately.

Kauai’s mayor signed into law a ban on drivers’ use of handheld cell phones and text messaging devices. It went into effect May 23. The public safety committee unanimously approved the plan on Jan. 13, followed by the City Council. The mayor signed the legislation Feb. 23.

The Kauai law cites “mobile electronics devices” such as laptops, video game units and PDAs, but does not include GPS. Fines would be $50 or $100 in school zones or roadwork sites. The bill deliberately does not exempt hands-free devices for cell phones.

Fines would be $100 and then $250. The Maui plan also would bar drivers under 18 and others with restricted licenses from using cell phones, regardless of whether a hands-free device is employed. The legislation, expected to become law July 1, 2010, would mean all of the state of Hawaii’s counties have adopted distracted driving bans.

“It’s time to make this a reality,” said Maui County Council member Mike Victorino. “Enough is enough.”

Maui banned use of handheld electronic devices while driving. The mayor signed legislation into law on July 6, 2010. The ban, which includes text messaging and handheld cell phones, took effect immediately.

Kauai’s driving ban on handheld cell phones and text messaging became effective May 23, 2010. The Big Island’s ban on handheld cell phone use went into effect Jan. 1, 2010. Honolulu also has banned the holding of electronic devices while driving. The law includes cell phones and text messaging devices.

Crash data shows that during 2007, 32 percent of crashes were attributed to distracted driving. That’s 2,871 of the 8,770 collisions reported statewide.

Archived cell phone, texting legislation:
HB 14: Would prohibit text messaging by drivers and use of cell phones unless a hands free device is employed. Part of an omnibus traffic-safety bill. Carried over to the 2010 session. (Marumoto)

HB 89: Would outlaw use of cell phones for text messaging (all drivers). Fines up to $100. Carried over to the 2010 session. (Mizuno)

HB 15: Would outlaw text messaging while operating a motor vehicle and drivers’ use of handheld cell phones. Fines up to $100. Carried over to the 2010 session. (Marumoto)

HB 1158: Restricts drivers under 18 with provisional licenses from various forms of distracted driving, including use of all cell phones “and other electronic devices.” Also covers eating food, grooming and reaching for objects. Companion to SB 976. Carried over to the 2010 session. (Say)

HB 502: Same as HB 1158 (above). Carried over to the 2010 session. (Finnegan)

SB 760: Would prohibit drivers from using mobile telephones while driving unless the wireless device can be operated hands-free. Carried over to the 2010 session. (Chun)

SB 13: Seeks to ban drivers from using cell phones without a hands-free attachment. Would outlaw text messaging for all drivers. Carried over to the 2010 session. (Taniguchi)

SB 249: Would prohibit all drivers from text messaging and using cell phones without a hands-free device. Fines from $100-$500. Carried over to the 2010 session. (Gabbard)

SB 250: Would ban text messaging and emailing by all drivers. Violation does not occur unless an accident results. Carried over to the 2010 session. (Gabbard)

SB 275: Would prohibit drivers from using cell phones not equipped for hands-free use. Provides for forfeiture of violators’ cell phones. Carried over to the 2010 session. (Nishihara)

SB 976: Drivers under the age of 18 with restricted licenses would be banned from a range of distracted driving behaviors, including use of electronic devices and making cell phone calls (regardless of whether a hands-free device is employed). Also cites eating food, grooming and reaching for objects. Companion to HB 1158. (Hanabusa)

SB 1054: Seeks to restrict various forms of distracted driving, including use of handheld cell phones “and other electronic devices.” Also covers eating food and grooming. Secondary enforcement. Carried over to the 2010 session. (English)

Previous legislation notes:
SB 760, from Sen. ‘Susie’ Chun Oakland, D-Kalihi-Liliha, was approved on first reading Jan. 26, 2009. SB 976 from Senate president Colleen Hanabusa, D-Waianae passed on first reading Jan. 28.

HB 14 and HB 15 are sponsored by Rep. Barbara Marumoto, R-Kahala. The traffic-safety legislation was sent to committee Jan. 23, 2009.

SB 274 and 275 are sponsored by Sen. Clarence Nishihara, D-Waipahu. The cell phone-confiscation provision seems to be a first in the nation. They were referred to committee Jan. 28, 2009.

Regional Hawaii cell phone legislation:
Maui’s plan to outlaw use of handheld electronic devices while driving hit a snag on Feb. 18, 2010, when the Maui County Council Committee of the Whole voted 5-4 to delay consideration of Councilmember Joe Pontanilla’s measure. Fines would be $100 and then $250.

Hawaii County (the Big Island) has banned the use of handheld cell phones, meaning motorists must use a hands-free device. Violations will cost up to $150. Drivers causing accidents while using a mobile electronic device are subject to $500 fines. The Big Island ban was approved by the County Council on June 16, signed into law June 25, and went into effect Jan. 1, 2010.

Honolulu has banned the use of handheld cell phones, text messaging devices, laptop computers and similar wireless gear. The law was signed by Mayor Mufi Hannemann on May 7, 2009, and went into effect July 1. “This historic and comprehensive legislation was carefully crafted to help improve public safety on our streets and highways,” Hannemann said, perhaps referring to the issue’s long history in the city.

The fine for first offenses is $67.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann vetoed a text messaging plan in February after police complained they had no way of telling what a driver was doing while holding a cell phone. Honolulu Police spokesman Thomas Nitta said of the new plan: “As long as you are operating a motor vehicle and you are holding an electronic device that will be a violation.”

The Honolulu City Council voted 6-1 to ban drivers from holding electronic devices such as cell phones while driving. Honolulu Council members Rod Tam and Donovan Dela Cruz introduced the Honolulu ordinance banning use of handheld electronic devices while driving.

The Star Bulletin editorialized in support of the Honolulu cell phone ordinance on April 11:

“(Bill 4) should not encourage drivers to trade in their hand-held cell phones for hands-free devices in the belief the latter is safe. The use of either kind of cell phones is distracting, causing the driver to concentrate on the conversation rather than the road. Studies have shown that use of a cell phone — hand-held or hands-free — while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk.”

Honolulu’s earlier plan to ban text messaging was approved by the City Council on January 28, 2009, but the plan was overturned by Mayor Mufi Hannemann on Feb. 13. The council failed to overturn the Honolulu texting bill veto in a vote Feb 25. Three councilmen changed their votes to allow the veto.

The Honolulu mayor cited problems with enforcement. City police stood against the texting bill, saying that enforcement would be difficult. Police also have lobbied against state cell phone legislation.

The bill’s author, Councilman Charles Djou, said after the veto vote: “The text messaging driving ban has become a clear victim of typical city politics under the current mayor.” Earlier he noted: “I think (the ban) is needed and I think the community recognizes that text messaging and video game playing while driving is unacceptable.”

A Honolulu bus driver was videotaped playing PS2 games while driving. He kept his job.

Previous cell phone/texting legislation:
All state attempts to prohibit the use of handheld cell phones while driving have failed.

Rep. Joe Souki has led efforts to restrict use of cell phones in Hawaii. His hands-free legislation of 2005 passed in the House but was killed in the Senate.

MADD-Hawaii testified in favor of HB 1987 in January 2008: “Young drivers continue to be over-involved in highway crashes in Hawaii and across the
country. Studies have shown that novice drivers tend to be more easily impaired by distractions such as multiple passengers in the vehicle than are more experienced drivers. With more teens using cell phones, there is an increasing risk of young drivers causing crashes as a result of the distraction of having a cell phone conversation while operating a vehicle.”

Captain Evan Ching of the Traffic Division of the Honolulu Police Department testified on HB 1987 that “it would be difficult to enforce” and “problematic.” The HPD officially opposed the bill.

Numerous bills were filed for the 2008 legislative session seeking to limit use of cell phones.

HB 2462, HB 3323: Would have required use of hands-free devices by drivers. Not heard in committee.

SB 3120, HB 3198, HB 1987: Would have prohibited use of cell phones and other electronic devices by drivers under the age of 18, including those driving with a provisional license.


  1. This law needs to be altered or changed. I was using my phone as a GPS device with it connected to my radio for audio prompts, and a motorcycle cop pulled up next to me and saw my phone resting in my lap and pulled me over. I was not touching or holding my phone. I was using it to guide me safely to my destination. According to Ordinance 09-6 of the law, the word “Use or Using” is defined by holding your phone. I was not holding my phone, it was resting in my lap. The Spirit of the law is to make the roads safer but unfortunately the state is using the law as a revenue generator. In 2014 there were over 20,000 tickets issued under this law, which be generated over $6.3 million dollars.

    I believe everyone agrees that texting or talking holding your phone while driving is dangerous, but for the police to prey on society and explain it away as “it’s the law” to touch your phone is a travesty of justice. …

    A $290 ticket is an absurd amount of money for a first offense on a undefined and unspecified law that most police officers and politicians cannot give you a clear explanation of. … For the average wage earner in Hawaii, $290 equals three full days of working. Let’s all think about it. This is OUR State. They work for us, not the other way around.

  2. Got a citation today for holding a cell phone and using a PTT App. the officer said that if it were like Nextel it would probably be ok. nextel was also a cell phone so I don’t see the difference, but we were using an app. we were with nextel they were absorbed by sprint, but sprint connectivity was spotty. so we changed to another company then downloaded zello. it is great because up till five users is free, and we had only 5 users. the fine is $297 first offense? i’m hoping to show the conversation at the time of the citation was work related during this PTT walkie talkie app use. our conversations are just seconds at a time. we have even developed our own 10 codes system to minimize miscommunication and time spent talking on the phone. I would be happy to have nextel back. it was an excellent phone and service. :- (

  3. If we cannot touch our phones at all while driving, then say there is a wreckless driver on the road…how are we suppose to report that if we can’t talk, let alone touch our devices. I was almost ran off the road by a male driver (Tried to merge literally merge into my truck, pushing me into the oncoming lane) I called the incident in when I got to my destination … I even had the License plate number and description of the car! All I got in return was a call back from an officer saying next time to call it in, because there was nothing to do at that time. The officer also said that I should not only call it in, but follow that driver so they can locate me and find that driver … but how is that? If its against the law to talk and drive??

    Not only am I putting myself at risk to get a ticket to be on the phone … but to follow the guy that almost killed me by running me off into oncoming traffic is ridiculous. I don’t feel comfortable doing that, nor could I image any other person to feel comfortable doing so. There must be another solution.

  4. Melissa Johnson says:

    This is ridiculous. I just got a $97 ticket in Maui County for handing my phone back to my four-year-old autistic child so he could play games and be calm in the car. The police officer said that because I had it in my hand at all is why I was getting the ticket. i asked her how that was any different from handing him back a juice box or handing him back toy to play with And she just replied that it was the law. I worry about laws like this because there is no common freaking sense And they are used just to be moneymakers. The state is racking in millions of dollars just on this one law alone. It really is a sad thing.

  5. Lois Brown says:

    While riding home in a cab, the conversation turned to cell phones. When I mentioned I was getting an IPhone 4, the driver said he had one and just held it up for me to see and put it down. Within seconds, blue lights were flashing and we got pulled over, In spite of the fact I was a witness that the driver did not use the phone, and the phone history could have been checked on the spot, he was given a $147 ticket. Using is holding. I find this absurd to be able to redefine the word. If I am holding a toaster oven, I am not using it. This is almost three days wages for the cab driver.

  6. Brandon H says:

    I have to ask about this issue that I believe is in the same class as a driver holding his device for navigation purposes. I don’t think that is fair about this part and should be a law as well when someone who is driving decides to turn the station on his / her car stereo and reaches for it to search for different stations.

  7. is speaker phone also banned?

    • Greg: Depends on the county probably, but in Honolulu the banned distracted driving activity is “holding a mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle.” If you hold it at any point while driving, you’re a violator.


    • Yeah, I just got a ticket on Kauai (don’t know what cost will be yet, obviously not cheap from what I read) for holding a smartphone for 2 seconds with my arm rested to my right on the bench seat. This phone had no sim card and no wifi of course, it was on highway in right line with no vehicles in front of me. it was phone I just purchased and wanted to simply check what version of Android is in, which is 2 quick clicks and 3 seconds of “using”.

      I drove a lowered pick up and police officer who was driving an SUV sow this while driving by and puled me over. I showed my actual, other phone that I use and tried to show that this new phone has no sim card in it, I could not be texting or talking but he ignored everything I was saying. So, getting caught simply holding a phone for any reason and for any amount of time, like 2-3 seconds even without intention to use is as a “mobile device” means you’re using it.

      I’m just confirming that holding = using and of course any other device like ipod or camera would also fit in that device category since is a distraction. It’s one of those laws you find out about by getting a ticket first, I guess. I knew about texting and calling but it’s like you not suppose to touch anything and if is a cellphone you’re touching, that’s ticket guaranteed.

      • Sorry to hear about your ticket. The law says you can’t “use” these devices, which would seem to cover your activity. You might have an out with the wording that the device has to be capable of two-way communication (if you can prove no sim card), but it’s a longshot. Most states with a hands-free law convict anyone holding the device.

  9. So, we can use Bluetooth headset to talk inside the car. However, we would need the handheld device (cell phone) to CALL a person. Does this mean we are only permitted to ANSWER a call, but not DIAL a call?

  10. i think that texting or talking on the phone while driving is bad because it takes the persons attention off the road and thats how most of the car accidents occur because of CELL PHONES

  11. Why would you just set the law so late when this been going on for years? Why do you pick now?

  12. Barbara Kruger says:

    Thank you. Yes, unfortunately we have to make laws that protect ignorant/arrogant people from themselves. I have nearly been hit by cars driven by folks talking on cell phones – never mind texting. Remember that other drivers, not using cell phones have a right to be protected from the cell phone users.

    A friend, while talking on her cell phone, caused a terrible accident. People were hurt. Was it worth it? Never. Pull off the road.

    Big Brother? So sad, but you all who love your cell phones brought this on yourselves. Grow up. Be a safe driver.

  13. Chris spencer says:

    I also think this is a great bill but i was wondering about a rumor that commercial vehicles are exempt! Is this true?

  14. Carolyn Hashiro says:

    Is the cell phone law a law for all of Hawaii?

  15. how much would the ticket be if we get caught using our cellphones while driving?

  16. Crystal says:

    I think this is great… but i was wondering about the qualifications of “hands-free”. Beside the bluetooth sets, would the wire ear bud type of head set be Okay?

    • Yes, wired ear buds are OK in all states with hands-free laws. The media always talks about the (sexier) Bluetooth headsets, but the older and cheaper wired devices are just fine. Thanks for the question!

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