Many teens scoff at new driving law
Hawaii's teen license restrictions lack stiff penalties that might prevent fatal crashes
A new graduated-license law that took effect in January is supposed to help prevent tragedies like the crash early Saturday morning that took the lives of two teenagers and injured three others in Hauula.
Driver's license rules
Under the state's graduated-license law:
» Drivers ages 15 1/2 to 16 cannot drive unless a licensed driver, age 21 or older, is seated in the front passenger seat.
» Full driver's licenses cannot be issued to anyone under 17.
» Drivers under 18 with a provisional license cannot drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless a parent or guardian with a valid driver's license is seated in the front passenger seat or unless they have a signed statement saying that they can drive to or from work or a school function.
» Provisional drivers under 18 also cannot have more than one passenger under 18 who is not a household member, unless a parent or guardian is also in the car.
» The driver and passengers must all wear seat belts.
The penalties for violations are:
» Suspension of a provisional driver's license for three months.
» A six-month revocation of the driver's license for a second violation.
However, teenagers interviewed yesterday at Restaurant Row say the law is routinely ignored, and safety advocates said it might need to be strengthened and better publicized and enforced.
"It's one of those laws like jaywalking," said Jordan Odenkirk, 16.
"Even if people are aware of it, they don't care," said Odenkirk's friend Justin Malone, also 16, who said he does not know anyone who follows the law.
"If they're out driving with their friends, they won't be driving with adults," said Kiki Chaiwak, 16, who laughed when asked if he follows the law when he drives.
The law requires that minors with a provisional license or instructional permit have a parent or adult guardian with a valid driver's license in the car when they drive after 11 p.m. or before 5 a.m. They also need written permission to go to and from work or a school function during those hours.
The law limits the number of passengers under 18 that can be in the car and requires everyone to wear a seat belt.
Saturday's 4:20 a.m. crash in Hauula involved a 15-year-old driver in a stolen car who had four other teenage passengers, none of whom were wearing seat belts.
"There's no question that graduated licenses work (in reducing teen deaths)," said Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who helped push the new law through the Legislature.
But he said more education and enforcement could be needed.
"It boils down to parents understanding what the value of these laws are and really stepping up to the plate," Aiona said.
Honolulu police Capt. Frank Fujii said information was not available yesterday on how many citations police have issued for violations of the new law.
Fujii said police will review whether there is a need for stricter enforcement of the law.
Aiona said it might be time to take another look at the graduated-licensing law and see if it needs to be improved, perhaps with tougher penalties.
Currently, violators will have their provisional license or permits suspended, but they do not face any fines.
Carol McNamee, founder of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter in Hawaii, one of the major supporters of the graduated-licensing law, said traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers.
McNamee said MADD-Hawaii publicized the new law during prom and graduation season.
But she noted, "Any law is not very effective unless you get out a lot of information and publicity about the law and unless you renew or continue that information."
McNamee said she would like to see the state and counties spend more money to get the word out to teenagers and adults about the new law.
McNamee said the law is still new, and would like to see the state complete a study on its effectiveness.
Two other recent cases -- the deaths of two Waialua High School football players on May 13 and two Kapolei teenagers on July 24 -- also involved teens driving early in the morning. But in both cases the drivers were 18 or older.
Both McNamee and Aiona expressed sympathy for the families of the recent crash victims.
"MADD just asks, especially parents, to talk to teens and stress to them how important it is to be safe and follow the law," McNamee said.