Saturday, January 27, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, January 27, 2001

Hawai'i laws help lift rating on traffic safety

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Because of its strong DUI and child safety seat laws, Hawaii did well in a national study of traffic safety, but the state would need more stringent laws for licensing young drivers and motorcycle helmet use to be at the top of the list.

In steps that could boost Hawaii’s "better than average" grade, state lawmakers say they will introduce bills this session that write tougher requirements for drivers under age 18. But no measures are anticipated to require motorcyclists to wear helmets.

The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which looks at ways at improving traffic safety, published last month the study comparing traffic laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The report based its ranking on traffic safety laws that would reduce deaths and injuries by changing driver behavior. It gave grades of "good," "acceptable," "marginal" and "poor" in six categories: DUI/DWI, young driver licensing, safety belt use, child restraint use, motorcycle helmet use and "red light" cameras.

The report gave Hawaii a "good" ranking in three categories: DUI, child restraint use and red light cameras. It gave an "acceptable" ranking for safety belt use.

But Hawaii received a "poor" rating for young driver licensing and motorcycle helmet use.

Current Hawaii law allows permit users to take the driver’s exam after 90 days or three months, rather than waiting six months, and do not restrict minors from driving late at night.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Cal Kawamoto said his committee would hear a bill this session that would restrict minors from driving between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

"The exceptions would be driving home from work or a school-related function," Kawamoto said.

The Legislature also will look at a bill that extends the validity of a driver’s permit from the current six months to a year.

"That would give kids a longer time to practice and prepare for the exam," Kawamoto said.

Allan Williams, senior vice-president and chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said his organization’s study did not take into account a new Hawaii law that went into effect Jan. 1 requiring minors to take a driver education course.

Williams praised Hawaii’s laws for effectively revoking the licenses of those driving under the influence, and in ensuring children are placed in child-safety or booster seats.

"In those areas, Hawaii’s laws are strong," Williams said. "Hawaii’s DUI laws also make it illegal for anyone driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more. Many states impose a 0.10 percent level."

Under a new state law, repeat DUI offenders will lose their license and license plates for a year up to life, depending on their records.

Hawaii also rated well for passing a law to implement the use of "red-light" cameras, to be placed at 10 major intersections this summer that will photograph drivers who run red lights. The owner of the vehicle will receive a citation in the mail.

Williams said a recent study done in California and Virginia showed the cameras reduced red-light violations at intersections by 40 percent.

Hawaii rated "acceptable" for requiring seat belt use for passengers in the front seat, but only for children in the rear seats. States that ranked high required all passengers to wear seat belts, Williams said.

The study did not provide state-by-state rankings, but named California, the District of Columbia and Maryland as having the best traffic safety laws. The states with the worst traffic laws were Montana, South Carolina and South Dakota.

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