Bill limits drivers' use of cell phones


POSTED: Friday, January 16, 2009

The City Council is poised to ban drivers in Oahu from text messaging and playing video games but might also consider a stricter law later that would forbid motorists from holding and talking on their cellular phones.

The City Council Public Safety and Services Committee advanced yesterday what would be the first ban in the state on text-messaging and video game-playing by motorists. The City Council could take final action as early as its Jan. 28 meeting.

“;There is no place to send text messages or play video games while you're driving,”; said Councilman Charles Djou.

But the Honolulu Police Department and the city Prosecutor's Office warned councilmembers that it would be virtually impossible to enforce this law. Under the proposal, drivers could still talk on their phones and check their messages.

“;It's a good concept,”; said Deputy Prosecutor Lori Nishimura. “;We are concerned from an enforcement standpoint. We're not sure if the officer is able to tell, when you are touching your cell phone buttons, what it is for.”;

Nishimura added that drivers could easily object to the ticket by saying they were checking their calendar on the phone, or some other excuse that does not involve text messaging or video games.

Councilman Rod Tam introduced a more restrictive bill that would allow drivers to use their phones only with a hands-free device - a law that would be easier to enforce, Nishimura said.

“;It doesn't make sense to pass a bill that's nonenforceable,”; Tam said. “;This bill just goes to the wayside if it's signed into law. You're putting a burden on the Police Department.”;

But Djou argued that the state has for years considered a ban on drivers talking on their cell phones but repeatedly failed. Djou said it would be better to pass the law as soon as possible than to introduce later a separate, more restrictive measure.

Djou had initially introduced the cell phone text-messaging ban in November. Yesterday's meeting was the first time the City Council considered a more restrictive ban on cell-phone use while driving.

“;I loathe to dramatically change the bill on the cusp of final reading,”; Djou said. “;I purposely proposed a bill with a limited scope so we can enact something. At a future date we can discuss a larger ban.”;

The city's bill does not list a penalty fee, but would likely be the same as a traffic infraction.

The state is also discussing a ban on teenagers doing certain activities while driving. In a legislative package announced by Gov. Linda Lingle this week, she proposed to ban drivers 15 to 18 years old from using their cell phones completely - including text-messaging and using hands-free devices - playing video games, applying makeup or eating and drinking while driving.