No driving and texting


POSTED: Thursday, November 20, 2008

Honolulu drivers might soon say ttfn—ta-ta for now—to text messaging while driving.






        A hearing on the bill to ban texting and playing video games while driving is scheduled for today at Honolulu Hale before the City Council's Committee on Transportation and Public Works. The hearing, which will address several issues, begins at 9:30 a.m.




        Driver Safety: Apart from text messaging and playing video games, which of the following would you most like to have banned while driving? Vote now.



The City Council's Transportation and Public Works Committee will hear a bill today seeking to ban text messaging and playing video games while driving.

“;It's something that's new, and these weren't problems 10 years ago,”; said city Councilman Charles Djou, who introduced the bill. “;That's why new legislation is worthy of discussion.”;

Djou said the bill, modeled on similar legislation recently passed in California, also was inspired by a September incident in which a bus driver for Oahu Transit Services Inc. was suspended for playing a video game while operating a bus.

“;It shocked me that this wasn't illegal,”; Djou said. “;Unless he actually caused an accident, he could do it. The only issue with that particular driver was whether he would lose his job. Had he done that as a private citizen, there is no punishment.”;

The Honolulu Police Department has no stance on Djou's proposal, said police spokeswoman Michelle Yu, who declined further comment.

Djou said he expects some concern on the department's ability to enforce. He is not advocating banning talking on a cell phone.

“;An argument can be made that someone can still keep their eyes on the road while talking,”; Djou said. “;But from my perspective, I can't find any reasonable argument that someone can keep their eyes on the road while texting and safely drive.”;

The bill currently reads that a driver will not be deemed sending text-based communication when only reading, selecting or entering a telephone number or name into a cell phone, even though that requires taking his or her eyes off the road.

California already has a law that requires all drivers to use hands-free devices like headsets to talk on cell phones. State highway patrol officers there have issued more than 35,000 citations since that law went into effect in July, said spokeswoman Jaime Coffee from the agency's Sacramento office. That figure does not include citations from police or sheriffs' departments.

The texting ban begins Jan. 1.

“;This will close the gap in the hands-free cell phone law that went into effect back in July,”; Coffee said. “;When you're operating a vehicle, 100 percent of your attention should be on operating a vehicle.”;

Coffee said officers do not expect trouble enforcing the texting law.

“;It's pretty easy to spot,”; Coffee said. “;They're trained observers. You can tell when someone's text messaging. It just doesn't mix.”;

The city bill in its current state does not list penalties if the driver was caught texting or playing. The California law has a first-time fine of $20, not including other penalties and fees.

If Djou's bill passes committee today, it will go forward for a second reading on Dec. 3 and for final passage in January.

City Councilman Nestor Garcia, who heads the committee hearing the bill this morning, said Djou's proposal would cover only city streets.

“;If you want to go to the extent that I think Charles would rather go with this, he'd probably have to go across the street to our friends at the Capitol,”; Garcia said. “;We really need to hear from the police and prosecutors whether we need this.”;

Garcia said a state legislative proposal might have a better chance in light of the recent California ban.

City Council Chairman Todd Apo said he also hopes Honolulu police officers will share more information and anecdotal stories on how prevalent texting while driving is.

“;If the danger's out there, that's a discussion that needs to be had,”; Apo said. “;It's understanding how real the problem is and balancing that with how much government should be involved in telling people what to do and not to do.”;

Two out of three adults who drive a car have read e-mails and text messages while driving, while 57 percent of the same population admitted to sending text messages behind the wheel, according to a national survey released last year by mobile-messaging service Pinger Inc.

The survey also found that 89 percent of adults believe that sending text messages or e-mails while driving should be outlawed. The survey was conducted online with 2,049 adults nationwide.

Washington state is the first to ban DWTs, or driving while texting. Other states include Alaska, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota and New Jersey as well as Washington, D.C.