Bill to ban drivers' phone use advances


POSTED: Thursday, March 19, 2009

Activities such as using a cell phone while driving and sleeping at popular Kapiolani Park are a step closer to being banned on Oahu.

The City Council yesterday advanced separate measures that would outlaw both.

Bill 4 attempts to address the problem of inattentive drivers by prohibiting the use of all electronic mobile devices while driving. Drivers would be able to make emergency calls and the bill has exemptions for emergency personnel and drivers who use two-way radios on the job. The bill allows the use of a cell phone if a hands-free device is used.

About a dozen amateur radio operators testified, asking councilmembers to adopt another exemption to allow the use of their equipment while driving.

Licensed amateur radio operators said their activities have not been proven to cause accidents and they often provide useful information during severe weather situations and natural disasters.

The more restrictive ban comes a month after Mayor Mufi Hannemann vetoed a bill to ban text messaging and playing portable video games while driving, citing Honolulu police concerns that the measure was unenforceable.

Honolulu police Maj. Thomas Nitta and Deputy Prosecutor Lori Nishimura said they support Bill 4 because it addresses the problem of inattentive driving.

“;Enforcement will be more practical,”; Nitta said.

Councilmembers advanced the proposal, saying they wanted to get more input on the issue as it goes back to committee for more crafting. Among those they want to hear from are military officials, because the use of cell phones is banned on all military bases, even with a hands-free device.

Debate over the proposal to ban sleeping in parks erupted into an argument between Councilman Charles Djou and members of the Hannemann administration over whether both sides were working cooperatively to solve the problem of homelessness and vagrancy in public parks.

Bill 2, introduced by Djou, is viewed as a way to remove homeless people from Kapiolani Park near Waikiki.

He accused the administration of ignoring his attempts to work together on the problem and rolling out its own plan to deal with the issue. Hannemann last week unveiled an aggressive cleanup and renovation of Waikiki that includes new hours for Kapiolani Park.

Parks Director Lester Chang said previous meetings with Djou were canceled because of scheduling conflicts on both sides, and Managing Director Kirk Caldwell agreed to meet with Djou in the near future to discuss the problem.

Meanwhile, Bill 2 advanced and will go back to committee for more input before being put to a final vote.

Honolulu police and Chang raised concerns that the bill is too broad and would have to be applied to anyone who is sleeping in Kapiolani Park.

“;If you're just having a picnic and taking a nap after a meal, it would apply,”; Chang said.

Djou said he would agree to have the bill held in committee to give the mayor's cleanup project time.

“;I'm not wed to the language of the bill,”; Djou said. “;I am wed to finding a solution to Kapiolani Park.”;