Speed-limit enforcement bills face rough routes

Mar. 18—Proposed legislation this year to ticket speeders on Hawaii highways using fixed cameras has been redirected and still faces a possible roadblock ahead.

Proposed legislation this year to ticket speeders on Hawaii highways using fixed cameras has been redirected and still faces a possible roadblock ahead.

One such bill stalled in the House of Representatives in February, and its companion in the Senate has been amended to apply only to at least one school or work zone per county.

The original versions of each bill were to enforce speed limits using cameras at fixed locations on state or county highways with posted warning signs and possibly managed by private contractors.

House Bill 2267 was introduced in January by a bipartisan group of 16 House members, but after the House Trans ­portation Committee unanimously advanced the measure in early February, the House Judiciary Committee declined to consider it.

Companion measure Senate Bill 2443 has gotten a lot further, passing the full Senate in a 24-1 vote March 5 but only after being amended twice to have a more narrow application.

First, two Senate committees amended SB 2443 to limit automated speed enforcement to no more than 10 school zones, though the rationale for the change wasn't publicly discussed or included in any public testimony at the Feb. 12 hearing held by the Committee on Transportation and Culture and the Arts and the Committee on Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs.

After passage by the full Senate, SB 2443 was considered Tuesday by the House Transportation Committee, which changed the use of the envisioned program to at least one school or work zone per county.

Now the bill awaits possible consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, whose chair, Rep. David Tarnas, didn't take up the House version of the bill earlier.

Tarnas (D, Hawi-­Waimea-Waikoloa ) was not immediately available to comment Friday, but the bill is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The push for automated speed enforcement is largely coming from the state Department of Transportation more than 20 years after a public outcry helped shut down a controversial "van cam " traffic enforcement program after three months of operation.

"It's a big, important one for us, " Ed Sniffen, DOT director, said during Tuesday's House Transportation Committee hearing. "Speeding is the biggest cause of fatalities on the system right now that we would like to get rid of."

In written testimony the department explained that speeding was a major contributing factor in half of the 95 Hawaii motor vehicle fatalities in 2023.

Sniffen said during Tuesday's hearing that he wanted to have speed enforcement cameras at more than only 10 school zones.

Committee member Rep. Richard Onishi (D, Hilo ) said the 10-location limit didn't make sense to him.

Rep. Chris Todd (D, Hilo-­Keaau-Ainaloa ), chair of the committee, recommended the change to at least one school or work zone per county.

There hasn't been a lot of public testimony on either bill.

Supporters include the Honolulu Police Department, the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization and Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The state Office of the Public Defender opposes the initiative. "Replacing officers with discretion to cite speeding motorists with an automated system that will cite every driver going over the speed limit no matter how slight and without exception is detrimental to the general public, " the office said in written testimony on SB 2443.

The office also took issue with a procedure in the bill to cite registered owners of speeding cars regardless of who was driving, and noted that sometimes driving with the flow of traffic over the speed limit can be safe.

One other provision in SB 2443 would increase the maximum fine to $250 from $200 for violators of a red-light camera program that began in late 2022 after being enabled by legislation in 2017.

This automated red-light enforcement program is a two-year pilot project operating at 10 intersections on Oahu, and had produced about 13, 500 citations in its first not-quite-full year of operations.

If the Legislature passes an automated speed enforcement bill that gets implemented, it would be a second time for using cameras to ticket speeders.

The first attempt began in 2002 under a state law enacted in 1998 and modified in 2000 to establish a three-year statewide pilot project involving operators of laser-­equipped cameras stationed in roadside vans to ticket speeders and red-light runners.

During an initial two days of operation, 1, 557 speeding citations were generated, compared with an average 100 daily citations by police for a variety of traffic offenses.

A public outcry, which included allegations that the contractor and state were incentivized by revenue to maximize citations, led to the "van cam " program being canceled after only three months of operation on Oahu.

Out of 18, 954 citations issued during the curtailed operation, most were dismissed because the state Judiciary wasn't pursuing fines for exceeding the speed limit by less than 10 mph even though DOT was allowing citations for driving at least 6 mph over the limit. Other citations were dismissed for different reasons, including a lack of documentation.