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New, More Stringent Hawai‘i DUI Law Already Making Impact

July 25, 2019, 4:53 PM HST
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PC: Hawaiʻi House Democrats.

The Hawai‘i state Legislature passed a law during its most recent session placing more stringent penalties on DUI offenders, including increased fines and extra jail time for repeat offenders.

According to a state press release, the law is part of an effort to end the crisis of drunk drivers killing innocent people. The new law took effect on July 1, 2019.

“Last year 33 people were killed by drunk drivers in Hawai’i and each death was the result of a choice by a driver knowingly getting behind the wheel drunk,” saidRep. Chris Lee (Kailua, Waimānalo), who introduced the bill. “We will tolerate this reckless behavior no more. Our new law substantially increases fines, adds years of automatic license revocation and helps send repeat drunk drivers to prison for up to five years to keep our roads safe.”

Since the bill took effect in July, at least four repeat DUI offenders have been arrested and face long prison sentences and other penalties under the new legislation.

Cpt. Benjamin Moszkowicz, Honolulu Police Department Traffic Division, said on average four to six habitual drunk drivers are arrested each month. The new law makes a third DUI arrest a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

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“It is important now that we make sure the public is aware of the penalties, so we can save lives and end the constant fatalities caused by people making bad choices and getting behind the wheel drunk,” Cpt. Moszkowicz said. “Hopefully, this will help prevent some of the habitual folks from reoffending in the future.”

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The new law increases fines, lengths of license revocation for first time offenders and specifies that a habitual operator of a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant convicted two or more times can be sentenced to a five-year prison term or probation of five years, along with a mandatory revocation of license for three to five years, as well as a fine of between $2,000 and $5,000. In addition, any vehicle owned and operated by the person committing the crime may be subject to forfeiture, the release stated.

“This bill shows that the legislature, HPD and the prosecutors’ office are working together to make the streets of Honolulu a safer place,” said Acting Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto. “Hopefully with the news going out of increased punishments, people will learn not to drive drunk.”

The bill also established a task force to determine which further changes to the state’s DUI laws are needed to help keep drunk drivers off the road, the release stated.

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Public Policy Chair of the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Arkie Koehl, said Hawaiʻi has had very lenient DUI laws for years.

“We are looking for the task force to develop a comprehensive overhaul of the DUI laws as they stand now,” he said. “There (are) a number of things that need to be changed.”

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