Dangerous speeding
should be a felony


Governor Lingle has signed into law a bill allowing 5-year license revocation of drivers caught going 90 mph or faster.

SEVERAL traffic fatalities in which high speed was a factor in recent years prompted state legislators to consider increasing the penalties for dangerously excessive speed. A bill allowing revocation of driver's licenses for five years for driving at 90 mph or more was enacted and signed into law by Governor Lingle, but tougher legislation should be considered in next year's session.

The traffic accidents that drew the attention of legislators were horrifying. Two years ago, Holy Trinity schoolteacher Elizabeth Kekoa was killed in crash that was blamed on another motorist's racing at 100 mph; the motorist has been charged with manslaughter for Kekoa's death. In February, four people were killed on the H-1 freeway when two cars suspected of racing slammed into a flatbed truck.

One of the proposals rejected in this year's legislative session would have classified driving 30 mph or more above the speed limit as a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 and a one-year license suspension. Repeat offenders would have faced three-year license suspensions and forfeiture of their vehicles. Speeding is treated as a traffic violation instead of a crime.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Colleen Hanabusa said during the session that making excessive speeding a felony would increase the burden of proof required for a conviction to beyond a reasonable doubt. Police would need to tail suspected speeders for a certain stretch to enable them to testify in a trial, she said.

Legislation could be tailored with options for police in handling those situations. That was accomplished years ago when drunken driving was criminalized, and Sen. Cal Kawamoto points out that drunken driving has been significantly reduced. Hawaii law already treats racing on a highway as a petty misdemeanor, with a similar prosecutorial burden of proof as other crimes. Hawaii would not be the first state to treat dangerous driving as a felony.

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle favors criminalizing excessive speeding, an indication that he is not intimidated by the higher burden of proof. Carlisle said he approves of the new law as "a start" but looks forward to day when "grossly excessive speeding" is treated as a crime, resulting in serious jail time.

A person can be convicted of the felony of terroristic threatening for endangering another "with the use of a dangerous instrument" without actually injuring or killing anybody. That law should be a model for a statute recognizing that a motor vehicle is such an instrument and holding a driver responsible for recklessly putting others in danger.



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