Police enforce laws, including car smoking ban

As school begins, officers out in force

Maui Nui Youth Council members Kawena Kekuewa and Tyler Fisher join other students, parents and police officers in holding signs Friday afternoon on Maui Veterans Highway to remind drivers about a new “smoke-free vehicle” law banning people from smoking in vehicles occupied by someone under age 18. A violation carries a $200 fine. The Maui News/LILA FUJIMOTO photos

KAHULUI — Along with seat belt, cellphone and speeding violations, police are watching for adults smoking in vehicles occupied by children, as students go back to school this week.

A new county “smoke-free vehicle” law prohibits smoking in vehicles occupied by someone under age 18. Violators face a $200 fine.

“Smoke Free Ride When Keiki Inside” signs, promoting the new law, have been set up in all police districts, including on Lanai and Molokai, said acting Sgt. Timothy Hodgens of the police solo bike unit.

“We’re going to get the word out, so people won’t smoke,” Hodgens said. “Maybe they’ll think twice.”

Hodgens and other police officers were on hand Friday afternoon, as students and parents held signs along Maui Veterans Highway, formerly Mokulele Highway, to remind motorists about the smoke-free vehicle law that took effect July 1.

Police DUI Task Force Sgt. Nick Krau issues citations to a driver using a cellphone on South Papa Avenue fronting Lihikai Elementary School, as students went back to school Monday morning. The fine for use of a mobile electronic device increases from $297 to $347 in a school zone. The driver also received a citation for illegal window tint, carrying a $287 fine. As part of the Keiki Back to School campaign, traffic officers are on the lookout for cellphone, speeding, seat belt and other violations near schools.

“It’s important because it protects young people from secondhand smoke,” said Katie Folio, coordinator in Maui County for the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii.

She said Maui County was the last in the state to implement a smoke-free vehicle law.

Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who joined in the sign-waving, introduced the measure in February 2017 after members of the Maui Nui Youth Council chose it as the group’s top priority.

Sugimura said the bill was delayed until school was out so students could testify.

“It would give you chicken skin to see how many showed up,” she said. “It took over a year because we needed the kids involved.”

Some students talked about what their parents did, Sugimura said.

“They shared things they didn’t like. They were very honest,” she said. “It was amazing.

“This is their bill.”

Council Chairman Mike White proposed the $200 fine, which is the highest in the state.

The lowest fine — $25 on Kauai — “isn’t much more than a pack of cigarettes,” Folio said.

Folio, who remembers being a kid in the car with people smoking in the 1980s, said she was surprised to learn there hadn’t been a law banning the practice.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people smoke or vape,” she said.

In Maui County, 32.4 percent of high school students are actively vaping, she said.

“It’s a big problem,” Folio said. “We hope this law will draw some awareness about vaping. Hopefully, that will start to have an impact on how students perceive it.”

Some students didn’t need any convincing.

Tyler Fisher, a 9th-grader at Maui High School, said he supports the new law after “seeing people trap their kids in cars, in a way suffocating them with smoke.”

“They’re not signing up to smoke. They’re just there to take it,” he said. “You would think the parents would know better, but it takes a law to make them stop. It’s pretty sad.”

He and Kawena Kekuewa, a University of Hawaii Maui College student, were among those who testified in support of the measure before the County Council.

“It’s kind of just surreal that we helped make this real,” she said. “This law is just going to make it harder for people to smoke and vape.”

Acting Sgt. Hodgens said the new law might discourage people from smoking while children are in a vehicle.

For the next two weeks, as part of the Keiki Back to School campaign, police traffic officers will be at school zones during morning and afternoon hours.

“We’re going to be out in full force just to protect the public and make sure everybody gets to their school safely,” Hodgens said.

He said 95 percent of school crossing guard positions have been filled, except for one opening for a crossing guard at Waihe’e Elementary School.

On Monday morning, with students returning to Lihikai Elementary School, officers were on South Papa Avenue watching for traffic violations.

“Most people are driving pretty responsibly,” said DUI Task Force Sgt. Nick Krau. “The majority of our enforcement efforts are focused on keeping the roads safe as the kids go back to school.”

He pulled over one driver for a cellphone violation, with the fine increasing from $297 to $347 in the school zone. The driver also was cited for having illegal window tint, which carries a $287 fine.

The minimum fine for speeding in a school zone is $322.

Krau suggested motorists leave home earlier because of the increased school traffic.

Fines from the smoke-free vehicle law will go to the county.

Money collected from other traffic citations go to the state general fund.

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


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