House to Vote on Honolulu Highway Safety Bill

Honolulu: Failure to slow down and take appropriate caution when approaching a roadway emergency could result in civil fines according to state lawmakers last Wednesday.

The "move over" legislation was prompted by the deaths of two Honolulu police officers in a five-month period while they were stopped on Oahu highways.

House Bill 2030 faces a final vote in the House, where approval is expected, before going to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for consideration.

"The whole idea is to now educate the public about the importance of moving over and giving some sort of a buffer zone to first responders," said Honolulu police Major Kurt Kendro, who was among roughly two dozen officers who attended Tuesday's conference committee hearing. "This will protect anybody who wears a uniform and serves the public."

The proposal requires drivers to slow down to a "reasonable and prudent" speed when approaching a roadway emergency, or make a lane change if it is safe.

Motorists must give consideration to:

  • police or fire department vehicles
  • ocean safety vehicles
  • emergency medical services
  • freeway service patrols
  • tow trucks

Violators would face civil fines that judges would have discretion in setting, with stiffer charges for those who cause death or injury.

"We're simply saying that police now have a lot more authority to dictate how to control the traffic around an accident, which is what they wanted," said Sen. J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai), the Senate Transportation Committee chairman. English said laws on failing to use caution when approaching emergencies already exist; HB 2030 restates the law in a single section.

House negotiators agreed Wednesday to use the Senate version of the bill.

The House version is more specific and would require motorists to not use the lane next to a stationary emergency vehicle when there are two or more available lanes, or to slow down when there is only one lane. An offense would have constituted a petty misdemeanor punishable by stiffer fines and possible jail time. The violation also would have affected a motorist's insurance policies.

"Maybe a misdemeanor was kind of tough," said Rep. Joe Souki (D, Waihee-Wailuku), the House Transportation Committee chairman. "The bill is a good idea; we both agreed to that, we just disagreed on the penalty. I went along, in the end, with the civic rather than a criminal penalty."

Kendro said the bill was "not exactly what we wanted," but he still was pleased with the agreement. "We'll see what happens for the next year and if it's appropriate we'll seek to try and amend the law next year.

"The whole idea is public education -- to get them to move over."

Garrett Davis, 28, was killed January 21 on H-1 freeway near the Kaonohi Street overpass after a pickup truck slammed into his police car, which he had pulled over to help a stalled vehicle. Eric Fontes, 45, died September 13 when he was struck by a pickup truck beside Farrington Highway near Ko Olina while assisting another officer during a routine traffic stop.


Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser