Police say fatalities to go up if speed limit is not enforced

PUUNENE – From his vantage point near the Puunene Post Office, police traffic officer Dennis Arnds focused his laser speed gun on passing vehicles, some going well over the posted 20-mph speed limit.

Many longtime residents park in a dirt parking lot across the street and use a crosswalk on Hansen Road to reach the post office.

“It’s a spot where people need to slow down,” Arnds said.

When he has done speed enforcement in the area, “a lot of senior citizens say thank you,” Arnds said.

While he ticketed speeders in Puunene, other traffic officers cited dozens of speeding drivers Upcountry and in Maalaea on Monday morning.

The enforcement on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was part of a continuing effort by police traffic officers, who last year issued 3,010 speeding citations. Patrol officers gave out another 1,196 speeding tickets, bringing the total to 4,206 for 2013.

The number is “significantly up” from 2012, said police traffic Sgt. William Hankins.

The number of drunken or impaired driving arrests also increased last year, to 1,089.

Accompanying the increase in speeding and drunken driving enforcement was a decrease in traffic deaths last year. Sixteen people died in crashes on Maui County roads in 2013, down 30 percent from the 23 traffic deaths in 2012.

“They go hand in hand,” Hankins said. “If there’s a lack of enforcement, the fatalities are going to go up.”

Since the stepped-up emphasis on speed enforcement last year, some people have noticed that drivers generally have slowed down, said Lt. Ricky Uedoi, commander of the police Traffic Section.

“If we can slow people down, that will save lives,” he said. “We believe that we’re slowly getting people to comply. We’ve got to give credit to the public.”

Social media postings have helped by alerting people to speeding and other traffic enforcement, he sad.

“If that’s the way to get people to slow down, so be it,” Uedoi said. “That’s one way we get the community to help participate with combating speeding.”

Hankins said traffic officers, as well as patrol officers, conduct speed enforcement daily throughout the year.

Upcountry resident Wayne McIntee, who was among drivers Arnds cited for speeding Monday morning, said he has noticed an increase in speed enforcement by police, though he hasn’t been ticketed before.

“This time, I just wasn’t paying attention,” he said after being stopped for driving 46 mph in the 20-mph zone near the post office on Hansen Road. “I should know better. It’s my fault. I have no one to blame but myself.”

McIntee said he had been running an errand and was rushing to get home so he could go to work. By speeding and being stopped, he was delayed even further. “It’s kind of ironic,” he said.

McIntee said he wished police would do more speeding enforcement of downhill traffic on Haleakala Highway, where he said some drivers go 80 or 90 mph.

“As much as I hate getting a ticket, speed kills people,” he said.

The fine for speeding is $5 per mile over the speed limit plus $67 in court fees.

That amounts to $142 for someone driving 15 mph over the speed limit and $167 for someone driving 20 mph over the speed limit.

Drivers cited for excessive speeding by going at least 30 mph above the speed limit or at least 81 mph must appear in court. A conviction for a first offense carries penalties including a fine, driver’s license suspension and 36 hours of community service or two to five days in jail.

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

After being stopped by Arnds on Monday, Kihei resident Larry Lara Jr. also said he supports the increased police speed enforcement. “It’s a good thing,” Lara said.

He wasn’t cited for speeding, but he and passenger Dino Domingo had to pick up wood and furniture that spilled out of a trailer, leaving a trail of trash on the way to the landfill. Lara said he didn’t see the items falling out before he was stopped. “We were cleaning out a drug house, so we’re doing a good thing,” Lara said.

He received a citation for spilling loads on a highway.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at