Distracted driving bill, law causes confusion among public

There was confusion Tuesday over when changes to Hawaii’s distracted driving law actually take effect.

The changes, as defined in SB2729, were slated to begin on July 1, 2014, and included a higher fine for talking on your cell phone or texting while driving — from at least $100 to $250 for a first-time offense.

It also gets drivers out of appearing in court, which used to be required, by classifying the violation as a traffic infraction and not a crime.

However, when KHON2 called the Honolulu Police Dept. Tuesday morning, a spokesperson said officers couldn’t do anything about the changes: “Whenever there is a new law, we await official notification, then we notify/instruct our officers, then we enforce.”

Meanwhile, on Hawaii Island, police thought the law had taken effect. A Hawaii Police Dept. officer told KHON2 Tuesday that they didn’t know the bill hadn’t yet been signed into law.

Turns out, SB2729 had been passed by lawmakers, but wasn’t signed by the governor until later that afternoon.

A statement from the governor’s office said, “Abercrombie has until July 8 to carefully consider all bills presented to him after April 14, regardless of a bill’s effective date.”

So what happens now? The state judiciary says it will honor whatever the officer wrote on the ticket.

State Sen. Will Espero (D-Ewa Beach) says he believes once a bill is signed to law, it should take effect immediately.

“There doesn’t need to be a transition, because it’s already against the law to be driving and using a cell phone and any other device. So this bill primarily looks at the fine and if an individual has to go to court or no,” he said.

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