Lawmaker calls cops "overzealous" in ticketing texting drivers

Lawmaker calls cops "overzealous" in ticketing texting drivers

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's mobile device law forbids talking on the cell phone or texting while driving.

"We left it broad hoping that people would use common sense, including the law enforcement people. What has been shown is that they haven't," said Sen. J. Kalani English.

Drivers still ignore it. But English believes cops are also enforcing the law to the extreme, and it's clogging up the court system because every one cited must go to court.

"What the courts are saying is this is costing us millions of dollars in court time and court expense, as well as just back-logging the whole system," English said.

Since the law went into effect last July 1, police officers statewide have handed out 7,184 citations for using mobile devices while behind the wheel. Officers with the Honolulu Police Department handed out 4,851 citations.

A judiciary spokesperson said one judge estimates mobile device violations now make up 40 percent of her cases. Clerks at the courthouse said it has increased their workload and slowed down the process.

"You have people sitting out there, the benches are full with people. and half of them, I would say, are paying cell phone charges," said judicial clerk Rosemarie Hsia.

English and other lawmakers now want to tack amendments onto the existing law. One would allow drivers to use their mobile devices to search for current traffic conditions, accidents or alternative traffic routes.

"I think that would be legit. Especially when I'm lost, I need to do my map, " driver Rosemarie Tabasa said.

"The worst you could do then is somebody behind you is going to beep if you're not going," driver Steven Connell said.

But police think it would be a bad idea.

"Changing this law would provide a legal and justified excuse for a driver to hold a mobile electronic device, law enforcement would not be able to refute the explanation, and no citation would be issued," said Maj. Kurt Kendro, head of HPD's Traffic Division.

"I expected the police departments to oppose it because they're the ones overzealously enforcing this law," English said.

Another amendment would allow a driver to use a mobile device if the vehicle is on the side of the road, even if the engine is running. Right now that could get you a ticket, and according to the courts, a lot of tickets have been handed out.

Senate Bill 2729 passed English's Transportation Committee Thursday. It now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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