Traffic vans encountering road rage, speeding ticket
The operators of minivans used in the state's new photo enforcement program are becoming the focus of so much road rage that state officials are looking for ways to increase law enforcement support for van operators.
One hitch in that plan might be that some of the hostility could be coming from Honolulu police officers.
"We're concerned about the safety of the van operators," said Marilyn Kali, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation. "They're getting threatening gestures, they're having things thrown at them, they're being yelled at and ragged on by the radio stations."
Sometimes, Kali said, van operators report that the obscene gestures flipped at them are issued from the drivers' windows of marked police cars.
Kali said officials are also concerned that a police officer issued a speeding ticket Thursday to a van operator driving on Moanalua Freeway near the Pualoa off-ramp.
The police officer alleged the van was traveling more than 10 mph over the posted limit, but Kali said state officials and officials for Affiliated Computer Systems, the company that operates the cameras for the state, are not convinced that was the case.
"We will contest the situation," she said. "We're launching an investigation."
Jean Motoyama, spokeswoman for the Police Department, said Police Chief Lee Donohue neither was aware of the contested speeding ticket nor knew of any allegations that his officers made hostile gestures toward the van operators.
"He said that if the van operators want to file complaints, they may do so with the Police Dommission or with Internal Affairs," Motoyama said. "And like anyone else, if they receive a speeding citation they may contest it in court."
Kali said that in the coming week, officials will examine ways to increase law-enforcement support of the van operators.
She did not say what form that support is likely to take, other than to say it would not involve having police cars parked next to the vans.
Michael Schlei, implementation manager for ACS, said he had worked to start photo enforcement programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Denver. All were met with initial public skepticism but eventually became accepted and successful, he said.
He did say, however, that he was confused by the hostility shown by police officers.
"It's hard for me to understand," he said. "This is in no way intended as a replacement for police officers. And we tried to hire special-duty police officers to operate the vans; we're not taking away anybody's work."
Schlei said ACS officials had met with Donohue about using off-duty officers, but that the chief had said the police were so swamped with work after the events of Sept. 11 that they would be unable to help man the cameras.
Meanwhile, legislators are also taking note of the public outcry against the state's traffic-camera crackdown on speeding, and are looking at easing tensions by raising speed limits on major O'ahu roads.
House Transportation Chairman Joseph Souki yesterday said he favors increasing speed limits and has drafted legislation that he plans to introduce after the Legislature begins Wednesday.
Souki, D-8th (Waiehu, Ma'alaea, Napili), said legislative support has been growing for increased speed limits, especially after Kali said this week that going over the speed limit by even 1 mph could prompt a ticket.
"I have a bill to raise speed limits on state highways up to 65 mph as top speed," Souki said. He said the bill would still allow the state transportation director to determine limits where he or she saw fit.
"Right now, we have one of the lowest speed limits in the nation," Souki said.
But Senate Transportation Chairman Cal Kawamoto said he's inclined to ask transportation officials to review the limits but not do much more.
"It's not the legislators' job to raise the speed limit," Kawamoto said. He remains in favor of continuing the three-year pilot program in which a private contractor takes pictures of speeders and those who run red lights and mails car owners a traffic citation.
Rep. Willie Espero, D-41st (Ewa Beach), has written a letter to state transportation director Brian Minaai with several recommendations, including: a review of speed limits with an eye to raising some; treating the citations like parking tickets instead of moving violations; and reviewing the private vendors' profit margin to ensure that "excessive profits are not being made on this public/private endeavor."
Espero also takes issue with the varying official statements over the past several weeks about the threshold for speeding that will prompt a ticket. "Let's be forthright and honest and give information which is fair to the public and driver," he said. "I, for one, do not support a zero-tolerance policy."
City Councilman John Henry Felix has introduced a resolution asking that state and city agencies study raising speed limits on some of O'ahu's major roads "to determine if they may be raised without compromising public safety."
Rep. Charles Djou, R-47th (Kahalu'u, Kane'ohe) said he supports raising the speed limit after hearing that traffic engineers set the limits up to 10 miles below what the roads are designed for because "everybody's going to go 10 mph over."