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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 29, 2009

Honolulu City Council votes to ban texting while driving

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

The City Council yesterday approved a bill banning the use of electronic devices to play games or send text messages while driving.

The bill has been harshly criticized as unenforceable. However, council members agreed the bill could serve as a first step toward imposing a more effective, comprehensive ban on the use of handheld devices such as mobile phones while driving.

Councilman Nestor Garcia acknowledged the bill's flaws but said it could still help save lives.

"Most citizens will abide by it so if we can prevent one accident, whether it be by texting or playing a video game, then the imperfect law on the books will have done its job," Garcia said.

Approved by a 7-1 margin, the bill would ban writing, sending or reading text-based communication while driving, including text messages, instant messages and e-mail. The council in 2002 tried to ban cell phone use while driving, and variations on that idea failed at the state Legislature in 2005 and 2007.

Councilman Rod Tam, the only member to vote against the ban, criticized the proposed ordinance as unenforceable. Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who can sign the bill into law or veto it, has expressed similar concerns.

"This is bad legislation unenforceable an embarrassing situation," Tam said.

BROADER BAN FAVORED

Honolulu police also said a ban on texting and video game playing while driving would be difficult to enforce.

"We would be unable to determine what a person is doing as opposed from texting, as opposed from downloading, as opposed from utilizing the phone for communication purposes," said Maj. Thomas Nitta, head of the department's traffic division.

Nitta said a broader ban on cellular phone use while driving would be more enforceable.

Hawai'i and Alaska are the only states that do not prohibit the use of a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device, according to Honolulu police.

The bill, introduced by Councilman Charles Djou, was partly a response to the September suspension of a city bus driver who was caught on video playing a hand-held game.

"Although the bus driver received some administrative punishment, there was nothing wrong or illegal with that bus driver engaging in that activity," Djou said. "This Honolulu City Council needs to make a very clear statement that that sort of activity should not be allowed on our public roadways."

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.