Friday, January 4, 2002

It’s time to consider
raising speed limits

The issue: An attempt to enforce
speed limits with surreptitious
cameras has kicked in.

THE controversial effort to enforce highway speed limits with hidden cameras has started with the opening of the state Legislature but a couple of weeks away. This would be a good time to have the Legislature reconsider those limits and to institute other measures intended to expedite rather than to impede the flow of traffic.

Over the years, there have been repeated proposals to get people out of cars to lessen the congestion on Hawaii's roads: Expanded bus service, rapid rail transit, ferries, staggered work and school hours. The most immediate way to reduce crowding on the roads, however, would be to move more vehicles past a given point in less time. Three moderate changes that could help to accomplish that would be to:

>> Raise speed limits on open roads to 45 from 35 and to 65 from 55. Hawaii, along with Connecticut and New Jersey, has the lowest speed limit in the nation. Other small, closely knit states, such as Rhode Island, Delaware and Vermont have limits of 65. A limit of 65 on H-1 and H-2, and 45 on Kalanianaole and similar highways, would be more realistic.

>> Establish minimum speeds on open roads, with signs posted on upgrades to "keep up speed." The Lincoln and Holland tunnels that dip under the Hudson River in New York have signs -- and police officers -- admonishing drivers to keep up speed as they climb the slopes to exit the tunnels. On H-1 heading ewa under Punahou Street and going diamond head past Palama the road is often clogged because drivers slow down going uphill.

>> Require the police to enforce other pertinent rules of the road, notably signaling when changing lanes or turning a corner and not hogging the left or center lane when going slower than the speed limit. If you are in the center lane and someone passes you on the right, you are in the wrong lane. Insisting that drivers keep at least one hand on the steering wheel while using cells phones, combing hair, or folding the newspaper would make roads safer.

Those who oppose a higher speed limit will argue that speed kills. Not so. Excessive speed, especially when mixed with alcohol, kills. Roaring along at 90 with a snootful of beer at 3 a.m. is not conducive to long life. The cause of most road rage and accidents, however, is incompetent, inattentive and inconsiderate drivers. If speeders are to be ticketed by camera, that should free the cops to go after other infractions of good driving habits.

Declare federal halt
to capital punishment

The issue: The Justice Department
won't seek the death penalty in
a Big Island murder case.

A 33-year-old transient from California has been spared the possibility of the death penalty for the shooting death of a Big Island park ranger more than two years ago. Unfortunately, the U.S. Justice Department could seek capital punishment in a Hawaii federal courtroom in a future case.

That no federal death sentence has been handed down in Hawaii or in the dozen other states that have banned executions provides no assurance that it won't happen. Federal prosecutors have sought the death penalty in those states -- not Hawaii -- but have been turned down by juries. A federal moratorium on death sentences should be declared as the United States considers joining most other civilized societies in renouncing this state-sponsored barbarity.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson said the Justice Department chose not to ask for the death of Eugene Frederick Boyce III because of his signs of mental illness. Boyce, who maintains he shot park ranger Steve Makuakane-Jarrell in self-defense in December 1999, initially was determined unfit to stand trial because of his mental condition but now is scheduled for court later this month.

The department's decision reflects a growing concern about seeking the death penalty in cases involving defendants with mental problems; five states last year banned the execution of mentally retarded inmates. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that addresses the issue.

Other questions have been raised about racial disparities, the sentencing of juveniles to death and the competence of lawyers assigned to capital cases. Appeals by the inhabitant of a Texas death chamber whose attorney fell asleep during the trial have been denied. In addition, many people convicted of capital offenses have been proved innocent later by DNA evidence.

Meanwhile, recent signs provide hope that the United States will abandon the death penalty. Polls show that the public is growing more skeptical and the number of executions declined in 2001 for the second consecutive year to 66, down from 85 in 2000 and 98 in 1999. The number of inmates sentenced to be executed also has declined in recent years.

Timothy McVeigh, however, last year became the first federal prisoner to be executed since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. A recession that is likely to result in an increased crime rate and the anger of many Americans toward suspected terrorists could combine to reverse the trend of both public opinion and policy. The prospect of death -- as demonstrated by the Sept. 11 attacks -- clearly does not deter terrorism.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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