Gov. Abercrombie proclaims April as "distracted Driving Awareness Month"

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - By: Melanie Yamaguchi

Driving while distracted -- including using cell phones, eating and putting on makeup -- could not only cost your own life, but the life of someone else, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Tuesday at a news conference.

"It's one thing to do stupid things yourself and to yourself, but it's another thing entirely when as a result of not paying attention, you jeopardize the lives of other people," he said.

Abercrombie proclaimed April as "Distracted Driving Awareness Month" in Hawaii in an effort to promote the dangers of driving while distracted. The Hawaii Department of Transportation will launch a statewide media campaign which includes a public service announcement that will air on television and in movie theaters. The PSA portrays a woman on a gurney continuing to text on her cell phone after apparently being involved in a car accident.

"Some people still don't realize how dangerous distracted driving is," HDOT director Glenn Okimoto said. "Others know about the risk but they think the statistics don't apply to them. They forget or choose not to put their mobile devices down when they should be focusing all their attention on driving."

Nationwide, more than 3,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver and about 416,000 were injured, according to HDOT. Drivers who use hand-held devices including cell phones, MP3 players, personal digital assistants and GPS navigation are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves or others.

Statewide, in 2012, county police departments issued about 20,900 driving citations, according to HDOT. Although using cell phones while driving is among the top distraction, counties have experienced varying types of distractions.

"I think we have to educate the public about distracted driving," Hawaii County Police Sgt. Christopher Gali said. "Not only cell phones, but we also see, especially on the Big Island, people with their dogs on their laps."

Police Maj. Kurt Kendro said since Honolulu enacted revised ordinances prohibiting the use of electronic devices while driving in 2009, the Honolulu Police Department still issued more than 40,000 citations for distracted driving.

"This affects everybody," Kendro said. "It affects your insurance rate, it affects families, it affects our community."

Kendro also addressed the proposed state legislation that would prohibit all drivers under 18 years old from using their cell phones, even with hands-free devices. House Bill 980 passed in the House of Representatives but awaits approval from the Senate.

"That will protect our drivers, our youth and our community even more," Kendro said.

Wayne Parsons, a Honolulu-based attorney, has actively been reaching out to high schools --including Kapolei and Kaiser -- across the island to increase awareness on distracted driving. However, it's not the students that are to blame, he said.

"I think the worst offenders are the parents," Parsons said. "I think it is true that youth, teenagers, use music devices and they use their cell phone a lot. But I think they're also maybe more aware of the idea that they want to protect their safety."

He said many students are afraid for their own safety because their parents are often the ones who are distracted. His goal is to encourage high school students to engage in conversations with their parents about the dangers of distracted driving.

"Their generation is the handheld electronic device generation and they're going to determine a lot about the future in terms of using these devices and driving cars and come up with solutions to the problem from them," Parsons said.