Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle has unveiled details of five legislative initiatives relating to traffic safety that she will propose to the State Legislature when it convenes in January. The Governor made the announcement at Honolulu Police Department (HPD) headquarters.
HPD officers joined the Governor as part of a coalition to save lives and improve traffic safety, which also included Lt. Governor James R. “Duke Aiona, Jr., director of Transportation Rod Haraga, state legislators, the City Prosecutor’s Office, MADD representatives and other advocates for safe and responsible driving.
‘”Excessive speeding, drunk driving, disregard for pedestrians and inexperienced driving continue to take a devastating toll on residents and visitors who use our streets,” said the Governor. “The initiatives we propose are common sense measures that will help make our roads safer and save lives.”
Graduated driver’s licenses
The Administration, together with MADD, will propose a bill to establish a three-stage graduated driver licensing program for persons under age 18. The bill would require young drivers to be accompanied by a licensed parent or guardian when driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., with limited exceptions. The bill also requires the permit holder to be accompanied by a licensed driver who is at least 21, rather than the current minimum age of 18, when driving.
Step one would grant a learner’s permit to persons 15 ½ years old. Step two would grant a provisional license to drivers who are 16 to 17 years old, and have held a learner’s permit for at least 180 days, completed all requirements of the driver’s education program and passed the driver’s examination. Step three would grant a four-year license to 17-year old drivers, as opposed to a six-year license for drivers over 21.
A similar bill was introduced last session by Reps. Joe Souki and Kirk Caldwell, but failed to make it out of Conference Committee.
Increased penalties for excessive speeding – school/construction zones
The Administration’s traffic safety measures includes a bill to double the fine (currently $250) and increase the penalty for persons exceeding the speed limit on the road as well as in school and construction zones. Under the bill, any person who exceeds the posted speed limit by 25 miles per hour (mph) or more or anyone who is driving more than 80 mph can be found guilty of a misdemeanor. In addition to the fine, penalties for first-time offenders would include 30-days license suspension, mandatory attendance in driver retraining course, and 36 hours of community service or jail time of two to five days. Penalties would increase for repeat offenders.
Suspended license for underage drinking
Another proposed bill would suspend the driver’s license for 90 days of any person under 21 who is caught drinking. The bill also clarifies a law that any adult who provides as well as purchases liquor for a person who is under 21 years old shall be criminally prosecuted. The current law addresses only the purchase of liquor and does not address the penalty for such action.
Protecting pedestrians in crosswalks
To help protect pedestrians using marked crosswalks, the Administration will propose a bill to require motorists to stop when a person steps into the crosswalk to cross the street.
Under current law, a driver must yield the right of way when a pedestrian is “upon the half of the crosswalk upon which the vehicle is traveling.” Because this language is unclear, the driver must make a judgment as to when a person is “half way” in a crosswalk.
Preventing interfering with traffic signals
The Administration will propose a bill to make it illegal to possess, sell, manufacture, import or distribute any traffic control devices or mobile infrared transmitters. Such devices are used legally by operators of emergency vehicles, such as ambulances and fire trucks, to change traffic signals to allow them to navigate safely through intersections when people’s lives are at stake.
Statewide, approximately 280 of the estimated 985 state and county intersections have traffic signals that can be controlled by remote control devices for emergency personnel use. O’ahu has 150 (out of 750) traffic signals with remote control sensors; Maui has 60 (out of 105), the Big Island has 55 (out of 105), and Kaua’i has 15 (out of 25).
Under existing law, it is illegal for a person to alter, deface, knock down or remove a traffic light or stop sign. This bill would add the offense of interfering with a traffic signal through the use of a traffic control device. The penalty would be a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a term of imprisonment of up to one year.
“These measures serve as reminders for all of us to be more attentive and responsible when we drive, while imposing stiffer penalties for those who put other motorists and pedestrians at risk,” said the Governor.
The state also unveiled additional details of a pilot project to ease traffic congestion by providing free towing service and other assistance to motorists whose cars break down during rush hour. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is developing a Freeway Service Patrol Program to tow disabled vehicles, remove debris, notify emergency personnel of incidents, and deploy traffic control equipment. The program will be managed by DOT, in cooperation with Honolulu Police Department, Honolulu Fire Department, Honolulu Emergency Services Department, and Department of Transportation Services.
The initial pilot project will cover the H-1 Freeway from Waiawa Interchange to Middle Street and Moanalua Freeway. The second phase will extend eastward along the H-1 to Ainakoa Avenue. The third phase will extend in the leeward direction to Palailai Interchange, as well as add H-2 and H-3. Roving tow trucks will patrol the freeways from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. The program is scheduled to start by the end of next summer.
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