New isle speeding
law draws criticism

Excessive speeding must be
criminalized, some critics contend

Gov. Linda Lingle signed into law yesterday a bill aimed at deterring racing on Hawaii's roadways, a measure some criticized as a diluted version of earlier bills that would have given those convicted of excessive speeding a criminal record.

Under Act 105, drivers speeding at 90 mph or more could have their licenses revoked for up to five years. The law also increases fines for drivers whose car alarms repeatedly and falsely sound.

"I'm disappointed," said Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu), chairman of the Senate Transportation, Military Affairs and Government Operations Committee, who favored a stricter law. "We criminalize DUIs (Driving Under the Influence), and in the last 20 years we've seen a 40 percent drop in DUIs."

After a number of speed-related fatalities earlier this year and in late 2003, legislators took up the issue of racing and discussed several bills that would have criminalized excessive speeding.

In one of this year's deadliest crashes, four people were killed on the H-1 freeway in February when two cars suspected of racing slammed into the rear of a flatbed truck operated by workers for a city contractor.

Current Hawaii law treats speeding as a traffic violation. Kawamoto was behind a number of proposals to criminalize excessive speeding, which would subject offenders to hefty fines and even jail time. His committee approved a bill that would have made speeding 30 mph over the speed limit a Class C felony.

Opponents of the bills said making speeding a crime raises the burden of proof for the prosecution.

"Even for petty misdemeanor, (the standard is) beyond a reasonable doubt," Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) said in February while the bills were being debated. "So (police) have to actually tail (suspected speeders) for a while so that they can testify, and they have to have identification."

Hanabusa did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who also supported a bill that would have criminalized speeding, said yesterday that the new speeding law was "a start."

"It's certainly stronger than what we have right now," he said. "I think it's addressing an obvious problem. I think probably more can be done, but let's be happy about the fact that something can be done."

He said other states already have tough speeding laws, and he hopes to see Hawaii take on similar penalties for repeat offenders.

"I think that there's going to come a point when we look at grossly excessive speeding as the type of thing ... (punishable) by automatic jail time," Carlisle said.

City Councilman Nestor Garcia, who has urged legislators to introduce bills that would curtail excessive speeding, said the success of the speeding law will hinge on its enforcement. Police officers already have trouble catching speeders, he said.

He also said other steps can be taken to make Hawaii roads safer, and is working with the state Transportation Department to convene a summit in August that would address speeding laws and other traffic issues.


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