WAILUKU - Maui drivers may need to hang up their phones - and tear their eyes away from text messages, laptop computers, video games, pagers, digital cameras and other distracting gizmos - in the near future.
A proposal to ban people from using electronic devices while driving was introduced Friday by Maui County Council Member Joe Pontanilla. The bill was referred to the council's Committee of the Whole for future discussion.
Pontanilla said his proposal was in line with jurisdictions around the country that are beginning to crack down on distracted driving. Honolulu already has a ban in place, and a similar bill was passed recently by the Hawaii County Council.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
A motorist driving through Makawao talks on a cell phone Friday. Maui County Council Member Joe Pontanilla has introduced a bill to ban the use of electronic devices, like cell phones, while driving.
"There's a lot of concern out there," he said. "Before anything major happens, I think we should ban the use."
The bill would exempt drivers calling 911. It would ban the use of mobile, hand-held communication devices while driving but would not apply to audio or navigation equipment in the car, or to video players for passengers in the back seats of vehicles.
If the measure were to become law, infractions would be violations of the Maui Traffic Code, punishable by a fine of no more than $100 for a first offense and no more than $250 for every subsequent offense.
Pontanilla said the Maui Police Department and the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney have expressed their support.
And he said he was surprised to get an endorsement from some high school students when he chatted with them at the recent Maui County Fair about his proposed cell phone ban.
"One of them said her friend got into an accident because of just that," Pontanilla said.
Walter Enomoto, president of the Maui Bicycle Alliance, said his group was in strong support of the ban, and he called Pontanilla's proposal timely.
In addition to similar bans being passed around the state and country, the federal government is setting guidelines for government employees aimed at restricting cell phone use in the car and distracted driving.
Enomoto said he's concerned about the potential for a fatal accident caused by someone being distracted by a cell phone or text message.
"The death and the tragedy caused by something so trivial is a real possibility," he said.
There's already one less distracted driver on the road. Pontanilla said that, until recently, he was a regular cell phone talker while in the car.
"But ever since I introduced this, I stopped," he said.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.