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Police back bill to ban distracted motorists


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POSTED: Friday, March 06, 2009

After failing in an attempt to ban text messaging and playing portable video games while driving, the City Council is advancing a more expansive bill that would prohibit the use of any mobile electronic device while operating a vehicle.

Bill 4, which advanced out of the Transportation and Planning Committee yesterday, includes exemptions for emergency service personnel and bus drivers using two-way radios, and would allow for the use of a cell phone when making a 911 call.

The proposal has the support of the Honolulu Police Department and the city prosecutor's office.

“;We feel it addresses the problem with divided attention, which has become prevalent with the use of mobile electronic devices,”; said police Maj. Thomas Nitta.

Earlier this year the Council voted 7-1 in favor of a measure to ban text messaging and playing of portable video games while driving, but Mayor Mufi Hannemann vetoed the proposal, citing concerns from police and prosecutors that it would be difficult to enforce.

The veto was upheld last month, after three members changed their vote and supported the mayor's public call to sustain the veto.

Deputy Prosecutor Lori Nishimura said the new proposal would be easier to enforce because officers would only need to see someone using a device to issue a citation.

Under the previous bill, “;the officer would have to prove they were texting or video game playing, “; she said. “;Every other use would've been legal — that would've been the problem.

“;Under this bill, you can (cite) because they are using the device. Whatever the purpose, they're using it.”;

The bill defines mobile electronic device as “;any hand-held or other portable electronic equipment capable of providing wireless and/or data communication between two or more persons or of providing amusement, including but not limited to a cellular phone, text messaging device, paging device, personal digital assistant, laptop computer, video game or digital photographic device.”;

It would not apply to installed equipment, such as car audio components or dashboard global positioning systems.

Penalties would follow a fine schedule and range between $75 and $100, Nishimura said.

Council Chairman Todd Apo expressed concern that the bill is too broad and could lead to citations — and, in turn, increased insurance rates — for someone who is simply holding a cell phone.

“;That's a little extreme to me,”; Apo said.

Committee Chairman Gary Okino said a range of other distracting activities could be banned, but he wanted to limit what was included in the bill to give it a better chance of passage.