Bill targets texting, game-playing by drivers


POSTED: Thursday, January 29, 2009

The City Council passed a bill yesterday that bans Oahu motorists from text-messaging on their cell phones and playing video games while driving and left open the possibility of later outlawing cell phone conversations while behind the wheel.

The ban would go into effect as soon as Mayor Mufi Hannemann signs it into law. The Mayor's Office said Hannemann has not made a decision to approve the bill, but he has expressed some concern over the ban's enforcement.

The ban is specific and would only apply to text messaging and video games, which makes it difficult for police officers to enforce, officials say.

“;Our problem would be that we would be unable to differentiate what the person is doing as opposed to text-messaging or downloading or other functions a cell phone can do,”; said Honolulu police Maj. Thomas Nitta. “;We would have a hard time enforcing just a text-messaging ban.”;

City Councilman Rod Tam, the only dissenting person in a 7-1 vote, had introduced the idea of putting a blanket ban implemented in other states eliminating cell-phone use while driving unless motorists use a hands-free device, such as an earpiece.

“;The concept is good, but the legislation needs to be realistic and enforceable,”; Tam said. “;We are creating this ineffective, unenforceable law.”;

But other councilmembers noted that there are other essentially unenforceable city ordinances and that this ban would send a message to the public.

“;I believe that a majority of the citizens obey the law,”; said Councilman Charles Djou. “;If the only result in this legislation is a 5 or 10 percent decrease of traffic accidents on our roads, that is enough justification for the passage of this law.”;

“;If we can prevent one accident, then the imperfect law in the books would have done its job,”; said Councilman Nestor Garcia.

The City Council will likely consider the more restrictive ban later. The state Legislature is also considering similar legislation.

Djou introduced the bill after a Honolulu bus driver was suspended for playing a video game while driving a bus last September.

As a measure to limit distractions for bus drivers, the Council passed a measure in December 2006 requiring bus riders to silence their cell phones. That ordinance is widely flouted.