Dangerous habits new drivers just can’t kick, plus how to help police keep roads safe

If something has gone wrong on our roads, chances are Steven Wong has seen it.

For more than 11 years, Wong has taught thousands of people how to become safe and courteous drivers, and knows the rules of the road as well as anyone.

“Every day on the road, I’m trying to teach new drivers the proper way to drive, and it’s kind of hard to teach them when nobody else is following the rules,” said Wong, who runs Wong Way Driving Academy.

Wong says he’s more concerned than ever for what he sees is a blatant disregard for the law, and for the safety everyone who shares our roads.

“The distracted driving, you go to any traffic light, you look to the left, look to the right, look behind you. Everybody’s going to be on the phone,” he said. “It’s become an epidemic and it seems like everywhere you go, people need to be connected, and in the car is not the place to be connected.”

To hammer that point home, Wong says he shows graphic videos to his students, showing crashes caused by drivers using their phones while driving.

But he says even that doesn’t always work.

“Some of them tell me afterward, ‘We know Mr. Wong. I saw your video and how scary it was, but I still text and drive,’ and that’s really alarming,” he said. “I think a lot of times it’s not going to get home to people until something bad happens to them or their family or somebody close to that, because people feel kind of secure that they can do it and be safe, and you can’t.”

According to the state, police issued more than 20,000 tickets last year alone to drivers using their phones while behind the wheel. About half of those citations were given out by the Honolulu Police Department.

Capt. Thomas Taflinger works in HPD’s Traffic Division, which is called out every time a crash on the road claims a life.

“People really need to be careful and need to look out for each other, especially in Hawaii,” Taflinger said. “We’re such a small community. Everybody at any moment of the day has a family member or somebody that you know on the road, and you like to think that you can go to bed at night knowing that our family member or friend are safe driving on our streets.”

Whether it be someone on the phone or a driver weaving through traffic, Taflinger says if you see someone breaking the law, report it.

You may recall video of a van driving backward on Kapiolani Boulevard. It’s obviously illegal and dangerous, but police couldn’t do anything, because no one called 911 to let them know about it.

“We suggest that if you see somebody driving recklessly and could pose a danger to other drivers on the road, we want you to take some kind of action by notifying police and calling 911, but only call if it’s safe for you to call,” Taflinger said.

Taflinger says with a good description in real time, police have a good chance of finding the dangerous driver.

“Get a license plate number is always great, a description of the person, a short description of the vehicle, the direction you’re going in, where you’re at, and a little bit of what they’re doing — speeding in and out, cutting off people. Those are all things that are going to be able to help us track down this person,” he explained.

Even if police don’t catch them in the act, they’ll track them down.

“If we can ascertain the license plate number and match the car and everything matches, officers will follow up and go to the house and talk to whoever was driving the car and talk to them about the driving,” Taflinger said. “It shows the driver there are eyes watching, and it wasn’t just the officers who saw it. The community’s eyes on the road are just as important as anybody else’s.”

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