1,000-plus tickets given for use of phone while driving

As part of a statewide crackdown on distracted driving, Maui police officers gave out more than 1,000 citations to drivers using cellphones last month, nearly doubling the total for the previous four months.

Most of the 1,118 tickets were handed out in Central Maui by police traffic officers, who also stepped up enforcement in South and West Maui, said Lt. Ricky Uedoi, commander of the police Traffic Section.

“Just because the month is over, we’re not going to stop now,” Uedoi said.

“We know it’s a problem out there, and the problem is going to exist if people continue to talk on the phone and drive. Anything that distracts you from driving is a concern.”

In Maui County, those who use a hand-held electronic mobile device while operating a motor vehicle can be cited under a county ordinance banning the use of such devices. The offense carries a $97 fine.

Money collected from the fines goes to the state general fund.

Drivers who are talking, texting or even holding and looking at their cellphones can be cited under the ordinance.

The ordinance does allow for the use of hands-free devices while driving.

“The best advice we can give people is spend the money on a bluetooth rather than a citation,” Uedoi said.

But he cautioned that while a driver can take calls while using a bluetooth and use voice commands to dial others, using the hand-held portion of the device to dial could still lead to a citation.

Of the citations issued last month in Maui County, 79 percent, or 879, were handed out by police Traffic Section officers, Uedoi said. He said patrol officers in various districts also cited drivers for cellphone-use violations.

Before the distracted driving campaign began, in the nearly four months from Dec. 1 to March 25, Maui police issued 568 citations to drivers using cellphones or other hand-held electronic mobile devices countywide.

Statewide, 20,905 distracted driving citations were issued in 2012, according to the state Department of Transportation.

According to a state Department of Health report, an inattentive or distracted driver was a contributing factor in 24, or 8 percent, of the 288 drivers involved in fatal traffic crashes in Hawaii from 2007 to 2010.

In 2011, 3,331 people were killed nationwide in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared with 3,267 in 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Another 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, compared with 416,000 in 2010.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at