Traffic laws are no
good unless enforced


New measures cover pedestrian safety and teenage drivers.

THE misery of traffic congestion can spoil drivers' dispositions, often affecting safety on Hawaii's roads. New laws attempt to curb risky behavior, but without strong, well-publicized enforcement, they will not produce desired results.

A jump in pedestrian deaths prompted the state Legislature to change the law that directs the way motorists react to people in crosswalks. Drivers now are required to come to a complete stop when a person is walking in a crosswalk in the half of the road where the vehicle is traveling or is close enough to be in danger.

To publicize the new law, Lieutenant Governor Aiona staged a news conference, stepping along a crosswalk on King Street in front of television cameras, and talking about how drivers need to be made aware of the change. However, in a demonstration of the need for education, cameras also caught Aiona's driver steering away right in front of a pedestrian as she made her way through the same crosswalk.

That driver likely won't make the same mistake again, but altering motorists' behavior is difficult.

The state proudly boasts a 95.1 percent seat-belt use rate, the second highest in the nation behind Arizona's 95.3 percent. This is largely due to consistent enforcement and publicity campaigns that emphasize how lives can be saved and the hefty $92 fine violators are assessed. Yet, there are drivers who still refuse to buckle up. Some see the law as an intrusion on their rights, arguing that since they are the only ones who will be hurt in an accident, government shouldn't force them to use seat belts. Let's hope they don't apply this reasoning to their children, who cannot make their own decisions.

The federal government foots the bill for seat-belt campaigns and the overtime pay needed for police officers to catch scofflaws. Unfortunately, similar funding isn't available so that police can tackle other serious driving offenses, such as speeding and red-light running. While seat belts can prevent injury or death when these violations cause accidents, it would be better if police could stop accidents before they happen.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that red-light running has become quite common on Oahu. Police officials are aware that impatient motorists not only ignore yellow caution signals, but routinely race through reds and stop signs. The problem is there aren't enough officers to tag them. But bad drivers need to get the message. Police should consider setting up check points like they do for drunken driving, which has worked to reduce such incidents.

Another new law sets up a three-stage licensing process for teenagers and restricts when they may drive and who can ride in their cars. The law makes sense, but like others will be ineffective if left unenforced.

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