Council panel advances distracted-driver ban


POSTED: Friday, April 10, 2009

A proposal to ban cell phone use while driving — unless a hands-free device is used — likely would have the support of Mayor Mufi Hannemann if it clears the City Council.

The measure is one step away from making it to Hannemann's desk after the Council's Transportation and Planning Committee advanced it yesterday.

Bill 4 attempts to address the problem of inattentive drivers by prohibiting the use of all electronic mobile devices while driving. The bill is aimed at stopping text messaging and video game playing while driving and would allow for use of the phone if a hands-free device was employed.

“;It bans the most significant factor in distractions,”; said Councilman Gary Okino, the committee's chairman. “;You cannot ban everything, right? So basically it just bans hand-held cell phone use.

“;The reason why 'hand-held' is so important is that that's what makes it enforceable. If you're holding it, you're clearly in violation.”;

The bill is more restrictive than a measure vetoed by Hannemann in February that focused solely on text messaging and video game playing while driving.

In his veto message to the Council, Hannemann said he would be more supportive of the more restrictive ban because “;the police contend that this total prohibition would be more enforceable and acceptable ... and I agree.”;

Bill 4 allows for drivers to make emergency calls without restrictions and the bill has exemptions for emergency personnel and drivers who use two-way radios on the job.

The committee also added an exemption for amateur radio operators, who had argued that their activities have not been proven to cause accidents and that they often provide useful information during severe weather situations and natural disasters.

Council Chairman Todd Apo raised concern that the ban may be too broad, making it illegal to simply hold an electronic device while not addressing distractions that could be caused by equipment that is not hand held, such as a GPS navigation system.

“;We are making illegal holding something in your hand while driving,”; Apo said. “;I just don't get that because there are ways, I think, to get to the problem without making holding something in your hand illegal.”;

Police and prosecutors argued that drafting a bill to address specific concerns would lead to enforceability problems because officers would have to prove what a driver was doing.

Okino said specific concerns could be addressed in the future.

“;At this point, Okino said, “;I think we've really got a good, enforceable piece of legislation that's going to really help this community.”;

Bill 4 is expected to go before the full council at its next scheduled meeting April 22.


Mobile electronic devices banned

Under the council bill, a mobile electronic device is defined 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.”;

The ban includes but is not limited to cell phones, text messaging devices, pagers, personal digital assistants, laptop computers, video games and digital cameras.

It does not cover audio equipment, equipment used for navigation or emergency assistance, or back-seat video entertainment systems.