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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Who's going to stand up on behalf of Hawai'i's drivers?

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

Insurance companies have lobbyists. So do auto dealerships. Truck and car rental companies, too. Road-building contractors and engineering firms couldn't do without them. Sometimes, it seems like nearly every group associated with cars or transportation has someone looking out for their interests at the Legislature.

Except, of course, drivers.

Commuters, by far the people most affected when the Legislature tinkers with roads and driving rules, have no one to represent them. While laws are being made that affect hundreds of thousands of drivers in Honolulu, no one is lobbying on their behalf.

Or maybe those who want to speak out for drivers are all stuck in traffic.


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• Road work:

"It's a shame, really. We need someone to stand up for us, too," said Milton Imada, who has testified several times at the Legislature this year in opposition to the state's van cam program to catch speeders.

Imada, who recently retired after 34 years of looking after the vehicle fleet at the Board of Water Supply, said he felt compelled to speak for himself, his family "and all the people" when he realized that there was no organized opposition to the traffic program.

Although plenty of other drivers have made their sentiments on traffic cameras and other issues known to lawmakers, few of them have done it in any official, organized manner.

Meanwhile, the insurance industry, auto dealers and others have people who follow each piece of legislation every step of the way, safeguarding their interests. They speak up in hearings and work the lawmakers behind the scenes, too.

So what about those who should be looking out for motorists?

AAA of Hawai'i says it tries to get involved in big political issues, but rarely does. The local automobile association is run from the AAA office in California, making it hard for officials there to stay on top of local politics, or show up very often at our Legislature.

"Really, we're more active on the national front," said Jeff Spring, a spokesman for AAA, which got its start nearly 100 years ago pressuring local governments to build better roads. "It's not always easy for us to monitor what's going on in Hawai'i."

Others might suggest that the state Transportation Department should be a driver's advocate.

After all, it's financed by our tax money to facilitate our transportation needs. Of course, like most government operations, the DOT tends puts its institutional and commercial interests first; there's little time and few resources left over to see things from the individual driver's perspective.

Another alternative that's yet to catch on in Hawai'i is the upstart National Motorists Association.

Founded 20 years ago, the group says its goals are to advocate, represent and protect the interests of North American motorists.

Among its objectives, according to a spokesman, are protecting an individual's rights to use public streets, roads and highways; supporting traffic laws based on sound engineering criteria and public consensus; protecting a driver's right to own and use the kinds of vehicles he or she prefers; and opposing speed traps and other traffic enforcement measures carried out for revenue-generating purposes.

In addition to its work to raise speed limits in most places, the group is fighting for a nationwide ban on photo enforcement technology, and opposes overzealous emissions and car inspection programs.

Spokesman Eric Skrum said the group, whose headquarters are in Dane, Wis., has several Hawai'i members, but no organized chapter or local representative.

"I wish there was something like that here," Imada said. "We need to create a body of people who can have a little bit of funding, have some meetings, maybe have a rally at the State Capitol, and say no to certain things when they affect our cars."

Until then, you're on your own, drivers.

Mike Leidemann's Drive Time column appears every Tuesday. Reach him at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.