Every so often we all find ourselves driving a little too fast. Perhaps we’re in a bit of a hurry, late for an appointment, or passing a shiny new Chrysler Sebring on the Pi‘ilani carrying occupants more concerned with the scenery than the cars around them.
Laura Kaplan, a 42-year-old massage therapist from Kihei, was in just one of those situations last May when she was nabbed by a Maui Police speed trap. Clocked at traveling 77 mph between North Kihei Road and Ma‘alaea, Kaplan thought she was in for a citation and perhaps a stiff fine. But because she was going more than 30 mph over the posted limit, she actually faced much worse.
Last year the state pushed through a tough new speeding law aimed at curbing traffic fatalities. When Kaplan showed up for court the following month, she had no idea what she was in for.
“Only when I spoke to the public defender did the enormity of this ticket hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said. “I realized I was in a different ballgame. I was not in traffic court, I was in criminal court.”
Kaplan stood before Judge Sydney Pollak. She sentenced her to two days in jail. Citing prior speed infractions—one in 2004 and another in 1995—Pollak didn’t offer Kaplan community service, an option available to those with no priors.
“This is a freaking nightmare and no one I speak to has even heard of this law,” Kaplan said.
According to Hawai‘i Statute 291C-105, a first offender caught going 30 miles per hour over the posted limit or 80 mph anywhere will be subject to the following:
• A fine of between $500 and $1,000;
• 30-day suspension of a driver’s license;
• A driver retraining course;
• A surcharge of $25 to be deposited into a neurotrauma special fund.
Oh, and either 36 hours of community service or two to five days of imprisonment.
Lt. Bobbie Hill, director of Maui PD’s traffic division, said the tougher penalties are in response to a rash of speed related fatalities across the state over the past year.
“From this Mother’s Day [a month before he took over the traffic division] till now we’re averaging one fatality a week,” Hill said. “It’s a matter of thinking about what you’re doing, there’s no real need to go that fast. These laws actually have teeth now. People need to realize, you can go to jail.”
Kaplan served her jail sentence last month and found it less than accommodating.
“I was forced to spend 48 hours in a prison lock-up with long-term inmates, made to sleep on a concrete floor in a cell with two other women who lived there,” she said. “Locked away 19 hours a day and made to pick bugs out of my food. How is this supposed to make me stop speeding?”
Kaplan said her troubles are just beginning. She was assessed a $600 fine and lost her license for a month—no small penalty for someone who drives all over the island for work. She must also now file an SR-22 form with her insurance company, which will undoubtedly raise her premiums.
“In the end, after all that has happened to me, I wish I could tell the world I’ve learned my lesson: I no longer speed,” she said. “But I can’t. I am an assertive, safe driver. I get to where I am going and pay attention, but you know, I still speed. Maybe I won’t go over 30 consciously, but yup, I speed. Everyone else does, too.” MTW