WAILUKU - Maui County took a step closer to banning drivers from texting and talking on cell phones while they're behind the wheel.
The Maui County Council voted 8-0 in favor of the measure at first reading Friday, with Council Member Bill Medeiros excused. If given final approval, the ban would prohibit people from using a "mobile electronic device," including cell phones, text-messaging devices and digital cameras while driving. The bill is scheduled to come back to the council on second and final reading June 18.
The ban would apply only to hand-held devices for most drivers. But beginning drivers who hold an instructional driving permit or provisional license also would be banned from using "hands-free" devices.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
A teenage driver texts while stopped Friday afternoon at a traffic light on Mokulele Highway. Earlier that day, the Maui County Council gave initial approval to a bill to ban the use of cell phones and texting devices while driving. The measure still needs to return to the full council for second and final reading.
On Friday, council members considered some last-minute changes to the bill to make it more flexible for people who need to talk-and-drive for their jobs.
The bill currently would allow drivers operating fleet vehicles or someone with a commercial driver's license to use two-way radios in order to carry out their work-related duties.
But some council members favored loosening the exemption so that anyone whose job required them to communicate from their vehicles could use a two-way radio.
Darren Strand of Haliimaile Pineapple Co. had told council members that federal regulations required supervisors to be in contact with field workers during the application of certain pesticides. But because he doesn't drive a fleet vehicle or have a commercial driver's license, Strand wouldn't be covered by the exemption, he said.
"We'd have to reinvent how we do our supervision," he said.
But other council members said they wanted to move the bill forward as-is and make any necessary revisions when it returns for final approval in two weeks, giving them time to draft and review the changes without delaying the ban any longer.
"It's time to make this a reality," said Council Member Mike Victorino. "Enough is enough."
Council Member Wayne Nishiki joined others in expressing strong support for the bill, noting that studies have found drivers who talk on cell phones have the same higher risk of getting into an accident as drivers who drive while intoxicated.
"I'm anxious to get this on the books as a law," he said.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.