'Hands-free' law may catch many by surprise


POSTED: Sunday, June 07, 2009

Kapolei resident Jan Minders understands the reasons behind the city's new “;hands-free”; cell-phone law.





        » The ban on using mobile electronic devices while driving takes effect July 1.

» Under the law, mobile electronic devices include, but are not limited to: cellular phones, text-messaging devices, pagers, personal digital assistants, laptop computers, video-game players and digital cameras.


» Cell phones may be used with a hands-free device.


» Officers only need to see a driver holding a device to issue a citation.


» First offense is $67. A judge may impose higher fines for repeat offenses.


» Exempt from the law are emergency personnel and others such as bus and taxi drivers using their phones for work-related purposes.


» Drivers making 911 emergency calls also are exempted.


» For more information: www.honolulupd.org




Like others, he just doesn't know exactly when it starts or what it bans.

“;I think there should be more teaching of everybody to tell a little about what the new law says,”; Minders said. “;There's not enough information out there.”;

The new law was signed by Mayor Mufi Hannemann last month, with a start date of July 1 to allow people to prepare.

But with no money allocated for a public education campaign, the Honolulu Police Department is doing the best it can through word-of-mouth and media, said Maj. Thomas Nitta.

“;Ever since this law was signed by the mayor, that's what everybody is talking about,”; Nitta said. “;We're just hoping that the public is compliant.”;

To date, police officers have gone to neighborhood boards to spread the word, while officials also have talked to representatives of the hotel and rental-car industry to assist in getting the word out.

The department also is in discussions with the state Department of Transportation to try and get the word out at Honolulu International Airport and possibly on the electronic message signs above Oahu freeways.

Hawaii Kai resident Shelley Alcorn says more information, such as on the electronic signs, would be helpful, adding that cell-phone companies could pitch in, too.

“;Maybe they could have something where people can go out and get a discount or a rebate for a Bluetooth and other things like that so they'll be prepared,”; she said.

Cell-phone companies say there is some knowledge of the new law, based on sales and inquiries about hands-free devices, such as wireless Bluetooth headsets.

“;I know there's been an awful lot of interest,”; said Scott Charlston, spokesman for Verizon Wireless, a leading service provider in Hawaii. “;I know I can say that our sales have increased—there's no question about that—in the last several weeks since the mayor officially signed it into law.”;

John Nam, a sales associated at Mr. Wireless on South King Street, said buyers ask more questions these days.

“;People were coming in before just to get a phone,”; he said. “;Now it's more, 'Oh, is this Bluetooth capable?' Or, 'Does it come with the headset?'”;

Nitta said that the enforcement campaign begins on July 1 and drivers will not receive any warning or grace period.

However, “;It's not like we're going to send a group of people out to cite for handheld electronic devices,”; he said. “;It's going to be if officers on the beat observe a violation—just like a red light (violation).”;