Traffic cops ramp up seat belt, cellphone enforcement

Statewide ‘Click It or Ticket’ campaign runs through June 2

Police solo bike officer James Burkett directs a driver to pull over after she was seen using a cellphone Tuesday morning on Makawao Avenue. Traffic officers are on the lookout for seat belt violations and other traffic offenses as part of the “Click It or Ticket” enforcement campaign that started Monday. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photos

MAKAWAO — Police traffic officers took the “Click It or Ticket” enforcement campaign to Makawao town Tuesday morning, issuing dozens of citations to drivers who weren’t using seat belts.

“Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of people that have a bad habit of not wearing their seat belts,” said DUI Task Force Sgt. Nick Krau. “Wearing your seat belt is one of the most effective ways to save lives and prevent injuries in vehicle crashes.

“Our only reason for being out here is to prevent traffic fatalities.”

While Krau served as a spotter to help identify motorists violating traffic laws along Makawao Avenue near Baldwin Avenue, solo bike officers Timothy Hodgens and James Burkett and traffic investigator Jun Hattori stopped the vehicles.

Along with a few dozen citations for seat belt violations, officers issued tickets to drivers who were seen talking or texting on cellphones.

Solo bike officer Timothy Hodgens prepares a citation for a driver who wasn’t wearing her seat belt during Click It Or Ticket enforcement Tuesday morning on Makawao Avenue. The stepped-up enforcement is continuing through June 2.

A seat belt violation carries a $102 fine. Using a mobile electronic device such as a cellphone while driving carries a $297 fine.

None of the money from traffic citations goes to the police department, contrary to a common misconception, Krau noted.

Of the $102 fine for a seat belt violation, $10 goes to the neurotrauma special fund and $10 goes to the trauma system special fund. The rest of the money goes to the state general fund.

In 2017, the seat belt use rate in the state was 96.9 percent, compared with the national rate of 89.7 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In Makawao, seat belt use appeared to be consistent with the average on Maui, where traffic has become noticeably heavier on all roadways, Krau said.

At the corner of Makawao and Baldwin avenues, officer Hodgens said there was a “steady” number of violations Tuesday, even though the “Click It or Ticket” campaign has been well publicized.

“There’s signs all over the island,” he said. “Everybody knows.”

In addition to using spotters to help identify violations in some areas, police are doing roving patrols as part of stepped-up enforcement during the two-week campaign that runs through June 2.

“We have the unfortunate responsibility of investigating fatal motor vehicle collisions, and each and every fatal collision has an impact on us personally and professionally,” Krau said. “This is why no one takes traffic safety more seriously than we do.

“We always prefer voluntary compliance over writing citations. And we need the assistance and cooperation of our community in order for us to achieve our goal of zero traffic-related deaths.”

Nine people have died in traffic crashes on Maui County roads this year, compared to three at the same time last year.

“But we’re not concerned with comparing the numbers,” Krau said. “Our goal is zero traffic fatalities every year. Because even one life lost on our roadways is one too many.”

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