WAILUKU - Seven months after it was first introduced, the Maui County Council Committee of the Whole next week will take up a bill that would ban the use of cell phones and other mobile electronic devices while driving - unless drivers use hands-free earpieces.
Committee members will take up the cell phone ban bill at their meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Council Chambers. Nearly every council member has expressed support for the bill first introduced by Council Member Joe Pontanilla in October.
Maui County is the only county left in the state without a ban on using cell phones, texting, e-mailing, using reading pads or any and all "hands-on" mobile gadgets while driving.
"The proposed bill mirrors the law that went into effect in the City and County of Honolulu on July 1, 2009," said Committee of the Whole Chairman Mike Molina, in a statement released by his office on Thursday. "I have proposed some important changes that I believe will help to strengthen the bill."
Molina's version of Pontanilla's measure now includes a new provision that would prevent teen drivers from using cell phones, even with hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth.
Almost every council member has expressed a desire for the bill to pass soon and believes it will prevent accidents. But the Maui County cell phone ban has been on the back burner for several reasons.
Council members said they wanted to gather input from the Maui Police Department and county prosecutors and also give impacted business owners, such as taxi and delivery drivers, time to prepare for the change.
However, several people in the local business community complained that the ordinance would create an added expense in a time of extra-tight budgets constraints. A few also complained that the earpieces are uncomfortable if you have to wear one for an entire eight-hour shift.
In mid-February, the Committee of the Whole decided in a 5-4 vote to hold off on a vote in hopes that the Legislature would act on a proposed statewide ban that would have superseded the county ordinance. State elected officials in Honolulu, though, were bogged down with the state budget crisis and never got to the issue before the session adjourned on April 29.
Meanwhile, council members also were occupied since mid-March with hammering out their own version of the fiscal year 2011 budget, the bulk of the discussions for which just ended Monday.
"It is important that the council consider the passage of this bill as quickly as possible in order to ensure safety on Maui's roadways," Molina said.
The bill would exempt drivers calling 911 as well as drivers who use two-way radios for work. The traffic violation would be punishable by a fine of about $100.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.