Sunday, January 6, 2002

Cameras stir pleas
for more speed

Isle legislators look at the
possibility of raising speed limits

By Diana Leone

Just as motorists slow down because of the new traffic cameras that give speeding tickets, lawmakers are thinking about whether people should be allowed to go faster.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Calvin Kawamoto (D, Waipahu), said he wants the state Transportation Department to review speed limits on certain highways -- notably the H-3, Likelike and Pali.

There may be places where a 35 mph speed limit could be raised to 45, or a 45 mph limit raised to 50 or 55.

"I'm not an engineer or safety expert, but we should be willing to look at it," he said yesterday. "I had to go over the Pali the last couple of days, and I noticed my car rolled faster (downhill) than the speed limit."

Kawamoto still strongly backs the traffic cameras and believes they will save lives. But he and other lawmakers say they will consider modifying the law that allows the traffic cameras during this year's Legislative session.

Transportation Department spokeswoman Marilyn Kali confirmed that several lawmakers have asked the department to look into speed limits.

"I'm sure it's something we can look at," Kali said. "Whether speed limits will change, that's something else."

Kali said the department sets speed limits based on a variety of factors, including visibility, curves, hills, cross streets and whether it passes through a residential neighborhood.

She said there's more evidence that the use of the cameras is getting motorists to slow down.

On the third day of camera operation, Friday, the traffic cameras caught 463 of 11,943 vehicles checked going over the speed limit, said Kali.

That's down to one speeding vehicle for every 25.8 cars checked on Friday, compared to one for every 15.6 cars on Wednesday, the first day of ticket-issuing after more than a month of system testing.

By comparison, in the first nine months of 2001 the Honolulu Police Department issued an average of 102 speeding tickets per day.

"It's already made the streets safer, I believe," said House Transportation Committee vice-chairman Willie Espero (D, Ewa).

"At this stage we need to work on making it a system people believe is fair and where people don't feel like they're getting taken advantage of," he said.

Espero wants the state to consider:

>> Not posting the traffic camera vans on downhill slopes, where people may inadvertently pick up speed.

>> Raising the speed limit on the H-1 Freeway between Aloha Stadium and the University of Hawaii to 55 mph from the current 50 mph.

>> The bad impression that could be left with unsuspecting tourists if they are billed for speeding tickets a month after a lovely Hawaiian vacation.

>> Reviewing the profit margin of the vendor, Affiliated Computer Services USA, to ensure they are not making "excessive profits."

>> Perhaps lowering the fees collected by the state.

>> Whether people who are affecting traffic flow by going too slow can be ticketed as well.

Rep. Charles Kong Djou (R, Kaneohe) promises that changes will be discussed in the coming legislative session. His most-wanted change is having the tickets issued by the traffic cameras be citations, not moving violations.

"Right now if you run a red light or are caught speeding, and a traffic camera catches you, it goes on your driving record and affects your insurance," said Djou, a House Transportation Committee member.

That's especially a problem since, "we can quite clearly identify the vehicle, but cannot identify the driver."

"I think most legislators agree with me on this," Djou said.

Not Kawamoto. Those who lend a car or let others use it in business, "you're still accountable. It's your car, your asset. ... If you have a sloppy accounting of your assets, then you shouldn't be in business."

Djou counters that some states, including New Jersey and Wisconsin, have banned traffic cameras and others won't let them in.

At minimum, the contract with the camera operators should not be a "bounty system" where the more tickets it issues the more money the company makes, Djou said. Yet, "I'm not prepared to say we should rip out the system."

Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Waimanalo) wants the cameras gone.

"People want to get rid of it," Hemmings said. "They see it as big brotherism, Orwellian and unfair."

Hemmings said he has seen the traffic camera vans parked on the Pali Highway, just where the speed limit drops from 45 mph to 35 mph immediately before Kailua-bound motorists enter the tunnel.

"What I want to find out is -- are they ticketing for 35 mph or 45 mph," Hemmings said. "Is this about safety or about money?"

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