First a confession: I’ve done it. Odds are you’ve done it too, as have most of your friends. And, though experts agree it’s unsafe and even potentially deadly, it’s completely legal in Maui County
Texting while driving is a practice that’s grown along with the profusion of cell phones. Various studies have come to various conclusions about exactly how dangerous it is to type a text message while behind the wheel (or to talk on a cell phone in general). But nobody argues it’s safe, and many say it’s as bad as driving drunk.
Earlier this year, the Honolulu City Council passed a bill banning the use of all mobile electronic devices while driving, with exemptions given to emergency workers, drivers whose jobs require the use of two-way radios and people using hands-free devices or calling 911. The law slaps drivers with a $67 fine for the first offense. A similar ban on the Big Island is set to take effect January 1.
What about Maui? Lt. Wallace Tom of the Maui Police Department said that, while his department discourages the practice, with no law to enforce there’s little they can do. Asked if a county law is in the works, Councilmember Gladys Baisa said nothing is imminent, but the issue has been discussed.
Baisa said the council is monitoring the situation on Oahu, and may use it as a litmus test to see if a ban could work here, and if so how best to craft one. “Nothing is as simple as it appears,” she said, adding that she would have to study the issue further to form an opinion pro or con. Baisa said that, obviously, if a state or federal prohibition were put into effect, the county would have to honor it.
Though various bills introduced at the state level have fizzled, a federal effort spearheaded by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has made its way to the Committee on Environment and Public Works. If passed, the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting By Drivers Act of 2009 would give states a choice: ban texting while driving or lose 25 percent of federal highway funds. It’s a heavy-handed approach that will raise the hackles of state’s rights advocates, but it’s pretty clear it would get results.
The question is whether these laws, once passed, are effective. The answer seems to be that it’s too early to tell, but intuitively it makes sense that if people know something’s illegal, they’re at least slightly less likely to do it.
In a perfect world, this stuff wouldn’t be necessary. People would police themselves and make the smartest, safest possible choices. That we don’t, in fact, live in a perfect world is not news to anyone.
AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair, quoted in an October 4 newsday.com report, may have put it best: “It’s upsetting that people are so dumb we have to make a law in the first place.” Maui Time Weekly, Jacob Shafer