With representatives of the state Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Health (DOH), county police departments and traffic safety advocates standing in support, Gov. Neil Abercrombie today signed into law two significant traffic safety bills that will save lives and reduce serious injuries from motor vehicle crashes in Hawaii.
"Hawaii is putting safety first on our roadways with the enactment of our state's universal seat belt law; this measure closes the gap in protecting all passengers riding in a motor vehicle," Gov. Abercrombie said. "In addition, the enactment of Hawaii's distracted driving law establishes consistency across the state for the usage of mobile electronic devices while driving, simplifying enforcement and likewise making our highways and roadways safer."
Senate Bill 4, relating to "Motor Vehicles" -- Enacted as Act 73, this measure requires all front seat and back seat occupants to buckle up, effective immediately. Adults and children must use their seat belts and child restraints at all times. Unrestrained back seat passengers were more than three times as likely to have injuries that were fatal or required hospitalization compared to restrained back seat passengers, based on DOH's analysis of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) records. Additionally, among back seat passengers who were treated for injuries by EMS, average medical charges were nearly tripled among those who did not use seat belts ($11,043), compared to restrained passengers ($3,817).
"The Department of Health is pleased to see rates of passenger-related injuries going down based on high levels of seat belt use among front seat passengers," said Health Director Loretta Fuddy. "We anticipate that we'll see further reductions in injuries and death with the passage of this law for back seat passengers."
House Bill 980, relating to "Highway Safety" -- Enacted today as Act 74, this measure is effective July 1, 2013. While all counties have some form of a distracted driving ordinance in place, this measure establishes a state law that creates consistent requirements across all counties for the use of mobile electronic devices while driving and will simplify enforcement. Crash data from the DOT shows that during 2007, 32 percent (2,871 of the 8,770 collisions) were attributed to inattention to driving.
"People are injured or dying each year simply because they were not paying attention to the road. The possibility of causing a crash that could ruin lives is just too great," said DOT Director Glenn Okimoto. "We are focusing on changing the behaviors of drivers through legislation, enforcement, public awareness and education -- the same activities that have helped curb impaired driving and increased seat belt use. Our goal is to help drivers understand that texting, cell phone use, and other distractions behind the wheel can have dangerous consequences."
The bill signings were held in conjunction with the DOT's launch of the annual "Click It or Ticket" enforcement campaign, a partnership between the state and counties with federal funding. During the national Click It or Ticket mobilization from May 20 to June 2 and throughout the year, police statewide will be continuing strict enforcement of the state seat belt and child passenger restraint laws.