Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, April 21, 1999

Court can be a
chilling experience

NATURALLY, after my close encounter with three automobiles traveling at the speed of light, I was the one to get a speeding ticket. And, of all things, for going 60 mph on the H-3 Freeway.

There are two true things about the H-3: It's a beautiful highway and no one goes the speed limit. It's 55 mph for just about the entire length, including inside the tunnels. But as you come out of the tunnel driving to the windward side, there's a weird short section where the speed limit is 45 mph. Either it is a mistake or someone in the highway sign department decided to have a bit of fun.

I never noticed that one section of the highway was 45 mph and wouldn't have gone that slow if I had. Go 45 mph there and you feel like you are standing in front of a firing squad. People fly up behind and around you so fast your hair stands on end. I assumed it was 55 and was doing just about that when the cop got me on the radar gun. I thought he was kidding. I get a ticket for going 60 on the H-3 when, just a few days before, three kids had raced passed me on the H-1 going at least 100? The officer was unmoved by my argument.

So I went to Kaneohe District Court, which should be renamed Kaneohe Deep Freeze Court, because it is absolutely the coldest place in Hawaii. I mean, you could hang beef in Courtroom A. I sat there for an hour and a half before my case was called. They handled all the serious traffic offenses first, which consist of about a zillion people driving without insurance.

ANYONE who thinks the "pay-at-the-pump" insurance idea is a bad one should go see how much time is wasted dealing with people who drive without insurance. It would be a good way to catch those who don't pay until we catch them doing something else wrong, like speeding. Half the people on the road must not have insurance and about half of those were in court in front of me.

Watching all the other cases, however, helped me plan my defense: I was going the right speed, it was just that the speed limit signs were wrong. In other words, I had no defense. I noticed the judge threw out several radar tickets because the officer had filled out the tickets improperly. So I harbored a small hope that my officer had been likewise remiss.

My case was called. I broke the larger icicles off my body and approached the bench. After my teeth stopped chattering, I asked the judge to check the back of the ticket to see if my officer had filled it out properly. Naturally, he had. I pushed on to my non-existent defense.

I said that I had honestly thought the speed was 55. In fact, that's what it should be. It's even 55 in the tunnel. That one little section is something of a speed trap, I suggested. And, I said that the day after I got the ticket, I returned to the scene of the crime and actually tried to go 45 mph but couldn't. It was too dangerous.

Sometimes, things just work out. The judge, it turns out, also drives that stretch. He said he doesn't know why it's 45 mph there either. So instead of convicting me of going 60 in a 45, he knocked it down to going 54 in a 45, which cut my fine in half and will spare me grief with my insurance company.

The police officer was just doing his job. But it seems like it would be a better use of manpower for HPD to concentrate on uninsured kids racing on the highways than staking out weirdly posted stretches of the H-3. I might feel differently after I've defrosted and gotten the feeling back in my toes.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

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