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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 15, 2010

Kauai on track to ban cell phones for drivers

By Michael Levine
The Garden Island

LĪHU'E, Kaua'i Barring an unforeseen change of heart from lawmakers or a surprise legal challenge, the Kaua'i County Council will soon pass a ban on handheld electronics for drivers across the island.

The council's Public Safety/Energy/Intergovernmental Relations Committee unanimously approved Bill No. 2336 Wednesday afternoon. Assuming the full legislative body does the same as early as next week, the law could go into effect in three months.

Council Chairman Bill "Kaipo" Asing and Councilman Tim Bynum, the two nonvoting members of the committee, also signaled their support for the bill, joining with their colleagues to say the law will be an important step forward in providing for the safety of Kaua'i drivers.

Emergency 911 calls will be allowed, the proposed ordinance says, and emergency responders, drivers using two-way radios for work-related duties and drivers with amateur radio operator licenses issued by the Federal Communications Commission will be exempted.

The bill defines "mobile electronic device" to include cell phones, text messaging devices, pagers, digital assistants, laptop computers, video games and cameras, but does not include audio equipment or navigation systems, or any video systems for passengers in the rear seats.

Before passing the bill out of committee, council members approved an amendment that doubles the maximum fine from $50 to $100 for those drivers convicted or found liable of violating the law while driving in a school zone or construction area.

In comparison, a similar ban in the City and County of Honolulu has a maximum fine of $67 for the first offense, and the Big Island's ordinance, which went into effect this month, charges up to $150 for each violation and up to $500 if the device causes a crash.

A proposal in Maui County would implement a fine of no more than $100 for a first offense and no more than $250 for every subsequent offense, according to the Maui News.

The vote came one day after U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the National Safety Council announced FocusDriven, an advocacy group to raise awareness and support victims of distracted driving. Go to www.focusdriven.org.