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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

State rescinds 10 percent leeway for speeders

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By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state has quietly dropped a plan to cite only those drivers clocked by the new photo-enforcement system at more than 10 percent in excess of the speed limit.

That means that if a driver is caught going over the speed limit by even 1 mph, a ticket could be issued, according to Marilyn Kali, state Transportation Department spokeswoman.

"We feel speeding is speeding," she said yesterday.

The program began Jan. 2 and public opinion — from angry calls to radio disc jockeys to letters to the editor — has been hot and vocal.

If strictly enforced, says one defense attorney who handles traffic cases, the program could try the patience of judges and clog up the court system.

"It's going to overload the court system if everyone with a ticket shows up and wants to fight it," said defense attorney Victor Bakke, who was a city deputy prosecutor for seven years.

Last month, state Transportation Director Brian Minaai said the 10 percent "margin of error" would be the threshold enforced by operators of the new system. At the time, Kali also said that was the threshold.

"It was a misunderstanding on my part," she said. "It was never going to be 10 percent. I misspoke."

Minaai did not return phone calls placed by The Advertiser.

In a Dec. 16 press release, the department addressed the threshold this way: "As a practical matter, citations are issued for driving at speeds somewhat higher than the 10 percent 'safety margin' suggested by some observers."

At the time, Minaai also said the department had not wanted to release information about the threshold — the most frequently asked question by the public. The reason was simple.

"Telling motorists how fast they can drive above the posted speed limit without being ticketed may convince some of them that speeding is permissible," the press release said.

Since the program began, it has been credited with slowing down drivers all over O'ahu.

On first day of the program, 927 of the 13,507 vehicles checked were speeding. But state officials said that glitches in the system cut the number of citations issued on that first day to 158.

On its second day, 630 of the 10,803 vehicles checked were speeding. Traffic court officials received 178 citations from that day, said Marsha Kitagawa, a spokeswoman for the judiciary.

And on the third day of the program, when the cameras clocked 463 of 11,943 vehicles speeding, 108 citations were sent out, Kitagawa said.

The first hearing for drivers who decide to contest tickets under the new system will be Feb. 19 in District Court, she said.

Affiliated Computer Systems, the company hired by the state to run the program, initially proposed giving tickets only to drivers going 11 mph or more over the speed limit.

"The state did not agree to that," Kali said yesterday. "That was what they based their proposal on. However, we are saying anyone who exceeds the posted speed limit is subject to a citation."

Defense attorney Bakke said Hawai'i law allows judges to rule on "de minimis infractions," which gives them the power to decide that an infraction was too minor to punish.

"It's kind of like the manini infraction," he said. "What this statute basically says is a judge can throw out any charge brought before him if he finds that it is too trivial to warrant a conviction."

Under that interpretation, a judge might rule in favor of a driver caught going 38 mph in a 35-mph zone because the offense "falls within a customary tolerance, like the flow of traffic," Bakke said.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.