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UPDATE: Police Begin Campaign to Enforce New Seat-Belt Law

May 20, 2013, 6:40 PM HST (Updated May 21, 2013, 4:03 PM)
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***Updated on Tuesday, May 21, to also show that Senate Bill 4 became law immediately upon the governor’s signing, and that House Bill 980 allows Hawaii to share in additional federal funding.***

Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Monday signed a new law which requires all back-seat vehicle passengers to wear a seat belt.

Under prior state law, all front-seat passengers, and those in the back seat under the age of 18, were required to be buckled in.

Senate Bill 4, which took effect upon Abercrombie’s signing, extends that requirement to those 18 and over.

Big Island police on Tuesday said that they would be stepping up enforcement of the seat-belt law which now makes drivers responsible for making sure that all passengers are buckled up.

The current national “Click It or Ticket” campaign runs from May 20 through June 2.

The governor’s office issued a statement Monday citing statistics from the National Highway Safety Administration which said that seat-belt restraints for all occupants increases their safety by as much as 45%.

“Seat belts save lives,” Senator J. Kalani English, chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and International Affairs, said in the statement announcing the signing.

“The enactment of this measure reinforces what many of us already know, that the importance of seat belt use can’t be ignored,” English said. “By taking a few moments to buckle up, we can each play a vital role in preventing an unnecessary tragedy.”

Abercrombie today also signed House Bill 980, which establishes a statewide standard prohibiting the use of hand-held mobile electronic devices while driving.

The new law essentially prohibits drivers from texting or emailing as it makes even “holding” a mobile electronic device illegal while driving.

It also prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using Bluetooth or other hands-free mobile devices except when making “911” calls.

The law supersedes existing law in Hawaii’s counties, all of which had some form of distracted-driving ordinance.

“Studies show that mobile phone use while driving can have lethal effects,” English said.

“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,” he said. “I encourage Hawaii drivers to drive responsibly; the safety of everyone who uses our roads depends on it.”

The new law also allows Hawaii to become eligible for additional federal funding.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act passed last year by Congress authorizes payment of $22.5 million in the current fiscal year, and $23.1 million in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, to be distributed among states which have enacted a distracted driver law.

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