Hawaii DUI arrests on rise
About 41 percent of arrests on Oahu are highly intoxicated
STORY SUMMARY »
Arrests for drunken driving continue to climb despite a tough new law against driving while "highly" intoxicated, police figures reveal.
In fact, the average level of intoxication among drivers arrested on Oahu this year is 0.15 -- nearly twice the state's legal limit of .08.
"I don't know about you, but that's frightening to me and it should be to the rest of the public," said Honolulu police Maj. Susan Dowsett, who heads the HPD's traffic safety division.
Of the 3,622 arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence this year, about 41 percent registered a blood-alcohol content level of 0.15 or more, the legal definition of highly intoxicated.
Drunken-driving arrests have risen steadily since the year 2000, increasing more than 64 percent over that period.
Of the 59 fatal traffic accidents this year, police say, at least 23 involved alcohol, including a collision last week that killed local playwright Lisa Matsumoto.
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As drunken-driving arrests climb toward a new high, two of every five people arrested this year on suspicion of DUI met the legal definition of highly intoxicated drivers, Honolulu police figures show.
ABOUT THE LAW
A law that went into effect July 1 defines highly intoxicated drivers as those who register a blood-alcohol content level of 0.15 or more. If arrested, violators face:
» A 14-hour minimum substance abuse rehabilitation program.
» A mandatory minimum of six months' suspension of license and privilege to drive with an absolute prohibition.
As well as any one or more of the following:
» 72 hours of community service work.
» At least 48 hours to five days of jail time.
» A fine of at least $150 up to $1,000.
Through November, 3,622 people were arrested on Oahu on suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence. Of those, 1,488 drivers, or 41 percent, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 or higher.
By grim coincidence, that 0.15 level -- nearly twice the legal limit for driving -- happens to be the average level of intoxication among DUI arrests on Oahu this year.
"I don't know about you, but that's frightening to me and it should be to the rest of the public," said police Maj. Susan Dowsett, who heads HPD's traffic safety division.
Under a recent law, registering 0.15 or more could mean stiffer penalties, including a mandatory six-month driving prohibition.
But that has not translated to deterrence, figures suggest.
This holiday season, the Police Department is pleading with drivers to stay sober, especially in light of recent fatal accidents and high-profile arrests.
"This is the message we've been saying for years, and I don't think there's a person on the island that doesn't know it," said Dowsett. "But there's obviously a lot of people that choose to ignore that advice."
Beloved local playwright Lisa Matsumoto, 43, died Friday after a head-on collision as she drove against traffic on H-1 freeway. She had a blood-alcohol content of 0.242, according to the city Medical Examiner's Office.
Roelle Hoohuli, 22, died after her truck went off H-1. Police believe alcohol might have been involved, but her toxicology results have been deferred, according to the city Medical Examiner's Office.
Of the other 59 fatal accidents this year, 22 involved alcohol, Honolulu police say.
"I can't give you any answers on why this is happening," said Carol McNamee, founder of the Hawaii chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "The question we must pose is, Have communities become complacent? Have people forgotten the messages that MADD and other safety groups have been saying for about 20 years and more?"
Police and safety groups are not the only ones who have noticed the increase.
As an organizational tool, defense attorney Paul Cunney uses green folders to mark drunken-driving cases and blue folders for cases involving blood alcohol levels of 0.15 or greater.
"I've got a lot of blue folders here," remarked Cunney, who has worked on thousands of drunken-driving cases. He estimated that of 400 cases he has handled this year, about 55 percent involve highly intoxicated drivers.
Violators under the highly intoxicated drivers law automatically lose their license for six months without the chance to get a conditional driving permit.
"They're almost treating a first-time offender like a second-time offender," Cunney said. "One month is not too bad, but six is tough."
Three recent arrests involved high-profile residents that had a blood-alcohol content level above 0.15. State Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, local entertainer James "Kimo" Kahoano, and "Lost" actor Daniel Dae Kim were all arrested this past fall under the highly intoxicated driving law.
MADD-Hawaii's McNamee said she knows law enforcement officials are doing their job, otherwise the arrests would not be so high. She said all the group could do is push for more education and ask parents to educate their children.
"It's very disturbing to us, and we just hope the community will join our ranks and help us with what we're trying to do," McNamee said. "It's always bad all year, and it's especially tragic during the holidays."
DEATHS UNDER THE INFLUENCE
» Out of 59 fatal accidents so far this year, 22 involved alcohol. That number does not include the recent crashes with Lisa Matsumoto and Roelle Hoohuli. The number remains in place for the moment until investigators receive written reports from the city Medical Examiner's Office, police said. Matsumoto was found to be drunk at the time of her death. Hoohuli's toxicology results have been deferred.
» In 2006, 20 of the 80 fatal accidents that year involved alcohol, according to police.
» In 2005, 26 of the 72 fatal accidents that year involved alcohol, according to the state Department of Transportation.