Big Island police urge safety on the roads during the holidays
November is shaping up to be a deadly month on Hawai‘i’s roadways, and with the holiday season in full swing, state officials and Big Island police are urging motorists to be safe.
Through the first 10 days of November, there were eight traffic-related deaths throughout the state, one of which was on the Big Island when a pedestrian was killed Nov. 4 in a Kea‘au traffic collision.
A total of 103 traffic fatalities were recorded throughout the islands from Jan. 1 to Nov. 9, 25 more than the same time frame in 2021, according to the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation.
“The increase in traffic deaths in 2022 is alarming,” said Department of Transportation Deputy Director for Highways Ed Sniffen. “Twenty-five people is roughly equivalent to the number of students in a full classroom.[The Hawai‘i Department of Transportation] will continue to implement proven safety improvements such as raised crosswalks and no right turns on red, but we need all drivers and riders to follow the rules of the road.”
Contributing factors in the recent traffic deaths include impairment, speeding and motorcycle/scooter drivers who are not wearing helmets.
So far this year there have been 33 traffic fatalities on the Big Island, according to the Hawai‘i Police Department. Of those fatalities, 17 were occupants of vehicles involved in crashes, six were pedestrians, nine were motorcyclists and one was a bicyclist.
From Jan. 1 through Nov. 9 last year, there were 22 fatalities on Big Island roadways, 11 of which were vehicle occupants, one was a pedestrian, eight were motorcyclists, one was a scooter driver and one was an ATV operator. There were a total of 26 traffic fatalities on Hawai‘i Island for the entire year of 2021.
In the traffic fatalities of 2022, impairment was a factor in 14, or 42%, of the total 33 traffic-related deaths. Six were because of drugs only, another six were because of a combination of drugs and alcohol and two were caused by alcohol only, the Hawai‘i Police Department said. Toxicology reports are still pending on the other 19 deaths, with the percentage of fatalities because of impairment expected to increase.
In 2021, 21 of the 26 total fatalities on the island’s roads were because of drivers being impaired, with drugs playing a role in 20 of the 21 impaired deaths.
Driving under the influence of a drug played a similar role in 2020 traffic fatalities, police said. Of the 15 traffic deaths that year, impairment was a factor in 12 people dying, with drugs playing a role in nine of the 12 impaired traffic fatalities.
According to the Department of Transportation’s attitude and behavioral survey, only 19% of motorcycle operators surveyed throughout the state reported always stopping for emergency vehicles and 53% reported looking for pedestrians before preceding through a crosswalk. Motorcyclists are also the least likely people on roadways, just 13%, to always provide the minimum of 3 feet of space between themselves and a bicyclist.
In addition, 47% of motorcyclists surveyed reported driving through a red light in the past six months and driving while feeling buzzed; 41% admitted to driving 20 mph over the posted speed limit in the past six months.
Only 42% of motorcyclists surveyed wear a helmet, which is required by state law for anyone younger than 18 years old to operate or ride a motorcycle, moped or scooter, and 32% admit to operating a motorcycle without a license.
With the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaching and more than 40% of the fatal traffic crashes on the Big Island so far this year involving impaired drivers, police are teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to remind drivers that impaired driving is dangerous and illegal.
It’s not just alcohol and illegal drugs that can cause impairment; some cold medications or over-the-counter sleep aids and even some prescription drugs can cause a person to become impaired, which could lead to a motorist being arrested for driving under the influence of an intoxicant. Medications have directions on how to properly use them and people should follow them closely.
“People are familiar with the phrase ‘Don’t drink and drive’; however, they are less familiar with the impacts of driving impaired by prescription or illegal drugs,” said Torey Keltner, program manager for the Hawai‘i Police Department’s Traffic Services Section, in a media release from the Police Department. “We want our Big Island community members to stay safe on the roads during the Thanksgiving holiday. Driving impaired due to drugs is deadly and illegal, and no one should ever take that risk.”
Big Island police will be out in full force throughout the 2022 holiday season on the lookout for impaired drivers.
“With so many safe driving options available, there’s no excuse to drive impaired this holiday season,” Keltner said. “We are asking our community members to please make good decisions during the upcoming holidays and commit to sober driving.”
Police urge people to make plans for a safe ride home if they are heading out to the bar or attending parties for Thanksgiving. They offered the following tips for a safe night out:
- Plan ahead and designate a sober driver or use public transportation or a ride-sharing service. Someone who is affected by drugs or alcohol shouldn’t be making decisions about driving; that’s why having a plan is key.
- If you have used an impairing substance, do not drive. Passengers should never ride with an impaired driver. If you think a driver might be impaired, do not get in the car.
- If you see a friend who is about to drive while impaired, take the keys away and arrange to get them home safely. Don’t worry about offending someone — they’ll thank you later.
- If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact the Police Department via its nonemergency line at 808-935-3311.
“Before heading out to any holiday event, remember: If you feel different, you drive different,” police said in the media release.
Big Island police reported Tuesday that 15 motorists were arrested for DUI during the week of Nov. 7-13. Six of the drivers were involved in traffic accidents. One of the drivers was younger than 21.
So far this year, there have been 861 DUI arrests compared with 943 during the same period last year, a decrease of 8.7%. There have been 717 major accidents so far this year compared with 697 during the same period last year, an increase of 2.9%.
There have been 31 fatal crashes resulting in 33 fatalities so far in 2022 compared with 23 fatal crashes resulting in 23 fatalities during the same time period last year, representing an increase of 34.8% for fatal crashes and 43.5% for fatalities.
Police said DUI roadblocks and patrols will continue islandwide.