By Tino Ramirez
Advertiser North Shore Bureau
KAHUKU A brief ceremony will be held Saturday to bless six redwood highway signs that will identify the neighborhoods of Kaaawa, Kahana, Punaluu, Hauula, Laie and Kahuku.
Created by artist Kawika Eskaran of Kahuku, the signs also carry a reminder: "Drive With Aloha." Gentle as it is, the message has great significance in the community. It conveys the hope that no more people will be killed in traffic accidents along Kamehameha Highway in Koolauloa.
The signs, to be blessed at the Queen Liliuokalani Childrens Center in Punaluu, are the latest safety measure taken by the Koolauloa Traffic Safety Coalition, a grassroots group formed in 1997.
In the 11 years before the coalitions founding, 48 people were killed on the highway between Kualoa and Waimea Bay. Most of them were Koolauloa residents, including community leaders and Kahuku High School students.
Since the group was formed, the number of deaths has dropped and traffic safety has become an integral part of the school and community.
"Our approach has helped," said MaryAnne Long, a coalition participant since its inception. "Weve gone from averaging 5.6 deaths a year and a high of eight deaths in 1995 down to less than a two a year."
The coalition has focused on three areas: highway improvements, education and enforcement. In the past four years, the highway has seen improvements such as safety signs and a stoplight in Laie and increased traffic safety awareness. The community also has lobbied the state Legislature to allow the use of lasers and digital cameras to identify and cite speeders.
The coalition has spurred many safety programs in the communitys public schools. From 1992 to 1997, five Kahuku High School students died in traffic accidents. The coalitions efforts have made a difference at Kahuku, said Kauilani Ostrem, a senior who is co-chairwoman of the coalition with Abby Williamson. Since the coalition formed, not a single Kahuku student has died on the highway, she said.
"The students definitely are more safety-conscious," Ostrem said. "Students are taking more precautions, trying to make their friends more aware and being more responsible."
In elementary schools, pedestrian and bicycling safety are taught, while high school students are educated with videos and motivational speakers, said Kahuku principal Lisa DeLong, an original member of the coalition.
Kahuku students are also involved in several projects to promote safety community-wide. Students enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps recently surveyed seat-belt use in the community, finding that some people arent buckling up. They plan a campaign to encourage use of seat belts, she said.
The schools Youth In Action group is working to distribute safety reflectors to 5,000 students in all grades, as well as to senior citizens, said teacher Wendy Wells.
"The reflectors will allow pedestrians to be easily seen at night," said Wells. "A lot of people walk up and down the highway at night."
Safety has become such an integral part of the school and community, said DeLong, that residents will report students seen driving irresponsibly.
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