Police officers on lookout for motorists that are distracted

Police officers throughout Maui County will be citing drivers using cellphones and other hand-held mobile electronic devices, as part of stepped-up enforcement for Distracted Driver Awareness Month in April.

“We want to make our roads safe for everyone,” said Lt. Ricky Uedoi, commander of the Maui Police Department Traffic Section. “There are three main types of distraction: manual, visual and cognitive. Manual is taking your hands off of the wheel, visual is taking your eyes off the road and cognitive is taking your mind off of driving.”

Other state police departments are also participating in the enforcement. A national enforcement campaign will take place April 10 to 15. The new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration slogan regarding distracted driving is “U drive. U text. U pay.”

According to a police news release, distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety. The most common and most dangerous distraction is text messaging, because text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, the news release says.

In 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,328 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,360 in 2011. An estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012, compared to 387,000 people injured in 2011.

In 2013, Maui police issued 2,752 citations for people using a hand-held mobile electronic device while driving. So far this year, police have issued 198 such citations. In July, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill enacting a statewide distracted driving law.

Before that, each county had enacted its own ordinance addressing the unsafe driving practice.

Drivers that are issued a citation for using a hand-held mobile electronic device will be given a court appearance date. The fine for a first-time violator ranges from $100 to $200 plus court fees. For a second offense within one year, the fine is $200 to $300 plus court fees. For violations that occur within two years of two prior violations, and for a fourth and each subsequent violation, regardless of when committed, the fine is $300 to $500 plus court fees. Drivers cited within a school or construction zone will be required to pay double the fine amount.

State law does allow for the use of hands-free devices while driving, provided the driver is at least 18 years old.

“Purchasing and using a Blue Tooth or a headset is much cheaper than a citation, especially since you can use it any time while driving,” Uedoi said. “Just don’t use your phone for texting, checking emails, Facebook, Twitter and so forth while driving or stopped in traffic. If you need to check for driving conditions or weather-related updates, pull into a parking lot where it is safe and check your phone there, not in traffic or on the side of the road where you may pose a hazard to yourself or other motorists.”

“Police intend on changing the behavior of drivers whose habit of using a hand-held device while driving is both dangerous and deadly,” said Chief Gary Yabuta.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.