In bid to make Hawaii roads safer, incoming DOT chief pushes speed enforcement cameras

The idea is expected to face headwinds due to the history of remote speed enforcement on Oahu.
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 4:32 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 20, 2023 at 11:18 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The man leading the state Transportation Department is pushing harder to get speed enforcement cameras installed in a bid to make Hawaii roadways safer.

The idea is expected to face headwinds due to the history of remote speed enforcement on Oahu.

In 2002, the spectacular failure of van-mounted speed cameras gave the idea a bad name in Hawaii.

Since then, few politicians are willing to champion speed cameras. But with better technology and apparent acceptance of red light cameras, the discussion is no longer about whether the speed cameras will come, but when.

At his confirmation hearing, Director of Transportation appointee Ed Sniffen pointed out speed enforcement by police officers tends to focus on urban areas and highways.

He said cameras would be useful on rural roads, which often become notorious for speed-related deaths.

“We would love to see full enforcement extend beyond just red lights, and into speed zones, work zones and speed zones in your schools,” Sniffen said.

“Hopefully into areas where we know there’s issues right now, like Kaukonahua Road for instance.”

A Hawaii News Now review of court data confirms that observation. Honolulu police in 2022 issued about 28,000 basic speeding citations and about 20,000 were issued on freeways.

But out on Kaukonahua Road between Wahiawa and Waialua, where frequent crashes occur, only 14 drivers were cited all year.

Sniffen emphasized that unlike the mobile cameras deployed in 2002, the speed cameras would operate like the red light cameras he rolled out in Honolulu while he was director of Highways.

“We would mount them in one place, we can put up signs that sa you’re being monitored by speed cameras in this area. So if you speed it’s all on you now,” Sniffen said.

The van-mounted cameras also failed because with the private vendor collecting a fee for each citation, people saw them as profit-driven speed traps.

They were also rolled out without collaboration between the state and the city.

City Transportation Services Director Roger Morton is still cautious. “Speed cams are more controversial,” Morton said. “I would like to see how our community reacts to our red light cameras.”

The city and state are cooperating on the red light program and on installation of more than 220 speed humps, roundabouts and other engineering tactics to slow people down.

Morton agrees that speed cameras will likely be one of the tools in the future.

“I think there’s a place probably for both the technology of things like speed cams, and also other engineering, other traffic control devices that we can engineer into the streets,” he said.

Despite the urgency to make roads safer, residents shouldn’t expect to see speed cameras popping up very soon. They will require new laws, and its already too late for this year’s legislature to take on the issue.