Annual fair opens eyes to safety

KAHULUI – With boxes of bike helmets, an electrocardiography machine and pairs of vision-impaired goggles – adults and children alike, were educated and entertained Saturday during the 2nd annual Summer Safety Fair at Maui Mall.

The event, sponsored by Maui Memorial Medical Center’s trauma services group, featured hands-on activities and display boards at about a dozen stations near the center of the mall. Each station had a handful of volunteers explaining topics such as distracted or impaired driving, smoking cessation, suicide and domestic violence prevention, and nutrition.

“The hope is that the hospital can reach out to the community to help educate people on leading a healthier lifestyle,” said Karey Kapoi, the hospital’s administration services officer. “We try to provide a real diverse set of information to help people learn more about different topics.

“There were some things that I even learned about today.”

The station on safe driving attracted many visitors and tested them with two sets of vision-impaired goggles. The first simulated a 0.06 percent blood alcohol concentration – just under Hawaii’s legal limit of 0.08 percent – and the second replicated a level between 0.12 and 0.15 percent.

Participants were tasked with completing three activities: walking in a straight line without looking down, catching a tennis ball with one hand, and completing the board game Perfection.

“It was hard,” said 9-year-old LB Kahahawai-Kekona of Wailuku. “It felt like you were going to tilt over.”

Kahahawai-Kekona’s cousins Skylan Tabon, 12, and Zhane Tabon, 9, both of Wailuku, also participated in the tests and said they felt dizzy afterwards.

While looking through the goggles, objects are fuzzy and the ground appears to be moving, especially with the over-the-legal-limit pair. A number of people trying to walk straight on a marked yellow line were found a foot on either side, with some needing to regain their balance.

“I wouldn’t want to drive like that if my kid was in the car,” said Zari Espino of Wailuku, who completed the test alongside her 7-year-old daughter. “It was hard enough walking; I can’t imagine driving.”

Volunteer Steven Gonsalves, a student at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine on Oahu, helped facilitate the tests, including Perfection, which has participants place 25 game pieces into matching-shaped boxes within one minute.

“Doing (Perfection) in itself is hard, but doing it with goggles is even harder,” he said. “It was impossible.”

Behind Gosalves’ station was another group of volunteers advocating against cellphone use while driving. Nurses from the center’s emergency room passed out thumb-bands embroidered with “text free driver” to remind people to avoid using their phones until their cars are parked.

“We’re trying to teach adults and children the dangers of distracted driving, especially for those texting,” emergency room nurse Melissa Pua said. “Texting increases car accidents and fatalities, so we have a pledge board that people can sign to support safe driving.”

In May, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law a bill banning the use of hand-held electronic mobile devices while driving. The offense carries a $97 fine in Maui County.

Pua says that the number of phone-related accidents appears to be beginning to rival alcohol-related ones.

“We usually have bystanders that will say, ‘Oh yeah, we saw that person on their phone or texting when it happened,’ ” she said. “Drunk driving is a lot more noticeable, of course, but after police do their investigation we’ll sometimes hear that they were using their phone.

“And a lot of times the drivers that cause the accident are able to walk away from the crash and the innocent people are the ones injured or harmed.”

Pua said she recently treated a couple from Japan who were injured in an automobile accident by another driver who had been using a cellular phone.

“They weren’t seriously injured, but it certainly messed up their vacation,” she said.

Nurses with the intensive care unit had their own display on the opposite side of the mall, highlighting head injuries caused by car accidents.

“We ask kids how can you avoid drunk driving, and one them said ask a friend for a ride home and we were like, ‘Yes,’ ” ICU nurse Jeanne Mintz said. “Because that’s one of the biggest reasons for brain trauma. We’ll see people come in every month after a car accident suffering from some sort of trauma and they’ll be OK, but they’ll never be the same.”

In an effort to prevent head injuries, children were fitted for free bike helmets and given safety information. They also received photo identification cards from the Maui Fire Department, while adults got a free demonstration and introductory class on CPR.

“This year seems to have a lot of families, and that’s the whole point,” Kapoi said. “We want to encourage families to learn together, and hopefully we’re pointing out things that people don’t realize.”

Aside from the activities and information, the event featured Australia’s John Stephan from Maui Theatre’s show “You Got It! a Salute to Roy Orbison,” Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner Ikaika Blackburn, comedian Andy Bumatai, and Zenshin Daiko’s taiko drumming.

“We’re looking to continue to grow this event, and we’re super thankful for all of our entertainers.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at