Gov. signs seat belt bill into law, effective immediately

Distracted driving measure ensures consistency among all counties

Published  12:21 PM HST May 20, 2013
HONOLULU -

With representatives of the state Departments of Transportation and Health, county police departments and traffic safety advocates standing in support, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law Monday two significant traffic safety bills that he says 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.

"Seat belts save lives," said Senator J. Kalani English, chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and International Affairs. "The enactment of this measure reinforces what many of us already know, that the importance of seat belt use can’t be ignored. By taking a few moments to buckle up, we can each play a vital role in preventing an unnecessary tragedy."

English continued, "Studies show that mobile phone use while driving can have lethal effects. By providing consistent statewide requirements for the use of mobile electronic devices while driving, we are telling drivers that using a mobile device while driving is dangerous and unacceptable. I encourage Hawaii drivers to drive responsibly; the safety of everyone who uses our roads depends on it."

AAA Hawaii says it applauds the passage of the two key traffic safety measures.  AAA Hawaii and others supported both bills.

"AAA Hawaii wants to thank Senator Clayton Hee (SB4) and Representative Joseph M. Souki (HB980) for improving traffic safety by modifying Hawaii’s seat belt law and also establishing a distracted driving statute since these measures will help reduce deaths and injuries related to crashes," said AAA Hawaii General Manager Liane Sumida.  "We appreciate their hard work to develop legislation that benefits the people of Hawaii in such a significant way."

Senate Bill 4 makes seat belts or child passenger restraints mandatory for all passengers, regardless of age, and regardless of whether they’re sitting in the front or rear seats of a vehicle while traveling on Hawaii public highways.

Penalties for violating the universal (All Rider) seat belt law are unchanged from the previous law, where a driver is subject to a $92 fine. 

Seat belt use can reduce the change of death or injury to drivers and passengers involved in an accident.  As a result, many states have enacted seat belt laws.  A belted rear seat passenger is considered effective in reducing not only injuries to the rear seat passengers but also injuries to front seat occupants, according to traffic safety studies. 

AAA analysis and traffic safety research studies have shown that an unbelted occupant in a vehicle increases the risk of injury or death to other occupants in the vehicle by as much as 40 percent.  When rear occupants wear a seat belt, it’s estimated that the number of injured drivers and front seat passengers decreases by approximately 25 percent and 28 percent respectively.

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Passengers sitting in back seats should use safety belts for the same reasons they should use them in the front seat: to reduce serious injuries and fatalities in a crash.  Lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 44 percent among backseat occupants in passenger cars and 73 percent among backseat occupants in vans and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), according to traffic safety studies.

Fifty-four percent of the 130,854 passenger vehicle occupants who were killed in the U.S, from 2006-2010 were not wearing seat belts at the time of the fatal crashes, according to NHTSA figures.  In Hawaii, the number of unrestrained fatalities was 15 in 2011.

The distracted driving law (HB980) prohibits the use of cell phones and other mobile electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle and prohibits texting, instant messaging, gaming and e-mailing which take a driver’s eyes and mind off the road and hands off the steering wheel.  The law also prohibits drivers under age 18 from operating a motor vehicle while using a hands-free mobile electronic device, except for 911 emergency calls.

Recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research shows that nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, which represents approximately 16 percent of fatal crashes.  More than 500,000 people were injured in these collisions.

In 2007, the Hawaii Dept. of Transportation’s data showed that 8,770 collisions occurred and 2,871, or 32 percent, were attributed to inattention to driving.

Drivers who violate the new mobile electronic device law are subject to: for a first violation a fine up to $200, up to $300 for a second violation that occurs within one year and for violations that occur within two years and for the fourth and subsequent violations regardless of when committed, up to $500.  Penalties double if the violation of the new law occurs in a school zone or construction area. 

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