Police: no grace period for cell phone driving ban

Maj. Thomas Nitta
Maj. Thomas Nitta

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Police are issuing a stern warning to Oahu drivers. They say there will be no grace or warning period once the city's new ban on the use of cell phones while driving takes effect.

Come July 1st, a person could be cited for simply holding a mobile electronic device while driving.

Honolulu police are distributing new brochures to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving.

"Studies have been done showing that a person using an electronic device, say a cell phone while they're driving, is four times more likely to get into an accident," Maj. Thomas Nitta, Honolulu Police Department, said.

Starting July 1st, the city's ban on the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving will be enforced. The fine is $67 for your first offense.

"Use is considered any time you have something in your hand, which you will do for dialing, texting or things like that," Nitta said. "So as long as you have the device within your hand, it'll be considered a violation."

So, of course, sales of hands-free devices are up.

But there is wiggle room under the law. You can grab your phone while driving if you need to make an emergency 911 call. Police say you can also hold the phone and use the two-way, push-to-talk feature if it's a business call.

"As long as you're using it for work, that's entirely legal," Nitta said.

But how will an officer distinguish between a business call and a personal one, or between push-to-talk and speaker phone, before writing up a ticket?

"The person will be cited from what we observe, and it's going to be up to you to inform the judge," Nitta said. "This whole issue is a safety issue. It is not fine lines, gray lines."

Amazingly, police say they can not cite a person for enjoying a meal, reading a newspaper, or applying makeup while driving.

"Due to certain court rulings, right now, in order to cite someone, you need a collision," Nitta said.

Officers say they're getting the word out about the new law by speaking at neighborhood board meetings, and talking to airport officials and car rental agencies. They also plan to put up messages on electronic freeway signs.