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Taking vehicles from intoxicated drivers will improve road safety

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

A heartbreaking article over the summer reported on Maui County reaching 11 traffic deaths for the year (“2019 has brought spate of fatalities on county roads,” The Maui News, July 10).

I’m pained to report the statistics have only gotten worse. The County of Maui has now had 22 traffic fatalities this year, 15 of which were the direct result of impaired driving.

The current state of affairs on the county’s streets and highways is intolerable. On Dec. 2, the County Council’s Multimodal Transportation Committee, which I chair, took an important step toward greater roadway safety by passing a bill to enable the Maui Police Department to immediately order the towing of a vehicle when the driver is deemed intoxicated.

The full council is now considering the legislation. I’m hopeful the bill can receive final council approval and be signed into law by Mayor Michael Victorino before Christmas.

Lt. William Hankins, supervisor of the MPD Traffic Section, told my committee the new law will effectively remove “a weapon” from an impaired driver. In other words, this bill will save lives.

December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, and I’m heartened there are increased local efforts to raise community awareness of the need to prevent anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol from getting behind the wheel.

As a guest of the MPD on Nov. 23, I participated in the impaired-driving checkpoint on Kuihelani Highway, together with other members of the council, representatives from the prosecutor’s office and community advocates from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Also present were family members of Hannah Brown, the 19-year-old Maui resident who was killed on the highway this summer after a drunk driver collided with her vehicle.

Hannah was Maui County’s 11th traffic fatality this year, but her family and the council are working to ensure she is more than a statistic. Her memory is inspiring positive change — which will spare others the heartbreak experienced by the Brown family.

We’ve modeled our bill on Hawaii County Ordinance 11-102, also known as “Aliyah’s Law.” The law was enacted after 17-month-old Aliyah Braden was tragically killed in 2009 after a drunk driver ran a red light in Kailua-Kona.

Like the Hawaii County ordinance, the proposed Maui County ordinance would permit the police to order the towing of vehicles driven by motorists arrested for violating various state statutes, including the laws against driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, without a valid driver’s license or with fraudulent license plates or registration emblems. If after 30 days the vehicle’s owner hasn’t paid for the towing and impounding, the vehicle can be sold by the towing company.

The threat of losing a vehicle should help deter people from deciding to drive while impaired. Passage of this law would help MPD officers improve the county’s traffic-safety statistics by getting and keeping the vehicles of impaired drivers off the road.

At our committee meeting on Dec. 2, police officers and prosecutors spoke in favor of the measure, citing cases of repeat offenders and the need for additional means to reduce the avoidable deaths caused by impaired driving. MPD leadership and the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney have also committed to working with the council to help educate both police officers and the general public about the new ordinance as soon as it takes effect.

This law would take us in the right direction, but it is just one step. There’s more we can all do to minimize and, ultimately, prevent impaired driving.

Let’s all take personal responsibility.

Choosing to drive while impaired is, without exception, unacceptable. And we can’t be afraid to let friends and family know.

If you’re going to use alcohol or another intoxicant, have a designated driver, take the Maui Bus or call a friend, a taxi or some other rideshare option. And remember: “Buzzed” driving is, in fact, drunk driving.

Please have a safe holiday season.

* Yuki Lei Sugimura is chairwoman of the County Council’s Multimodal Transportation Committee. She holds the council seat for the Upcountry residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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