HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii lawmakers could change the penalty if you use your phone while driving.

Hawaii currently prohibits any driver from using a mobile device or electronic device unless the sole purpose is to make a 911 call. Additionally, no person under 18 is allowed to operate a motor vehicle while using a hands-free mobile electronic device either.

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HB1692 was introduced by Rep. Henry J.C. Aquino (D) Waipahu, and he said that every person who violates this shall be subject to a fine that should be deposited into the state highway fund. If a person violates the rule while driving in a school zone or construction area, the fine shall be paid to the director of finance.

“The author has requested that we keep the bill moving with blank amounts, and the chair’s recommendation is to move it out as is,” said Rep. Mark Nakashima, who is also the chair of the committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs.

Rep. Nakashima said Rep. Aquino would work with the finance committee on a specific amount currently a citation while using a mobile device costs $297, and if you’re caught using a mobile device in a school or construction zone, a citation costs you $347.

“It’s still not deterring people from using their device, so I’m not so sure if a higher fine would do the trick,” said Acting Major James Slayter of the Honolulu Police Department’s traffic division.

According to the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT), there were 14 fatal crashes involving distracted drivers in 2020 that jumped to 27 the following year.

“In 2019, 34.3% of the fatal crashes in Hawaii, were due to distracted driving,” explained Jai Cunningham, HDOT’s spokesperson. “So folks that might have been on their phone, when you think about that, that’s an awfully big number because that is something that can very easily be prevented.”

Slayter said distracted driving includes other things like eating, drinking, doing your makeup or hair — anything that takes your eyes off the road. He added that more than 13,000 citations were issued by HPD over the last three years.

“I know for a fact that officers give a whole lot more warnings than they do citations, so you can triple that number easily,” Slayter said.

He stated that maybe people will take it seriously if there was a higher penalty like losing your license for a period of time after multiple offenses over a period of time.

“I guess instead of fines, maybe something more like a cumulative thing, I mean, that’s not something that we’ve got going on here locally, but you know, I’m open to all kinds of different ideas. For me, it’s something that we have to fix,” Slayter explained.

He said in his years in vehicular homicide he’s seen a lot of crashes that would have been prevented if alcohol or distracted driving wasn’t involved.

“There were a lot of times where the phone was still in the hands of the decedent at the time of the crash. I had one where the person was actually doing a TikTok while they were driving, I had a pedestrian who was doing a TikTok in the roadway, and it’s just sad, really tragic incidents that could have easily been prevented.”

James Slayter, Honolulu Police Department’s traffic division acting major

It is illegal for pedestrians in Honolulu to cross the street while using a mobile or electronic device.

On Thursday, Feb. 3, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth urged residents to use safe driving practices after 18 major traffic collisions, including two fatal crashes that occurred in a single week from Jan. 24 to Jan. 31.

One of the fatal crashes claimed three lives, and police believe inattention and speed are possible factors in the crash.

According to Hawaii island police, throughout January there have been four fatal collisions, resulting in six fatalities. That is compared with three fatal collisions, resulting in three fatalities for the same time last year, 2021. It is 33.3% for fatal collisions and a 100% increase for fatalities.

“We are asking that our residents drive with aloha and great attention to ensure that everybody gets home to their families and loved ones safely. It is incredibly saddening to know that better practices on our roadways could have saved the lives of six members of our community this past week. Our administration sends our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and asks the community to think about them, remember them, and ultimately honor them by following the rules of the road. These sorts of traffic collisions are preventable and can be limited by being alert, aware, and attentive to ourselves, the roadways, and each other. Together, we can make our roads a safer place for all.”

Mitch Roth, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch

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“Every fatal traffic collision on Hawaii Island roads is a tragedy that forever impacts the victim’s families,
friends, and our community,” said Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira. “Hawaii Police Department remains steadfast in its commitment to reducing these needless deaths via traffic enforcement, community outreach, and education. We need everyone to do their part. There’s no excuse for any form of dangerous driving.”