A Honolulu City Council committee Tuesday deferred action on a bill that would prohibit pedestrians from viewing mobile electronic devices while crossing a street or highway, after concerns were raised that the measure’s language might be too vague.
Councilman Brandon Elefante, who introduced Bill 6, said he would contact the city prosecutor’s office for feedback on the measure’s language, adding that he had worked closely with the Honolulu Police Department to craft the bill. Elefante said he hopes to bring the bill back to the Council later this month.
Under the bill, pedestrians could face fines of between $15 and $100 for the first offense, $15 and $200 for the second offense committed within one year after the first one, and $15 and $500 for the third or subsequent offenses within one year of the first offense.
The city’s current law prohibits anyone from operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device, defined as a handheld or portable equipment capable of providing wireless or data communication, such as a cellphone, pager, laptop computer or video game. But the law exempts emergency responders performing official duties and drivers calling 911, both of whom are included in Elefante’s bill. The measure passed second reading last month.
“We’re further along in the process,” Elefante said. “We don’t want to penalize people, but we also want them … to really pay attention.”
At Tuesday’s Public Health, Safety and Welfare Committee meeting, Councilmen Trevor Ozawa and Ernie Martin raised concerns that the word “viewing” in the bill needs to be clarified and questioned if the provision would hold up in court. Ozawa said the bill, if enacted into law, likely would target certain areas with high pedestrian traffic, such as Waikiki.
Viewing, as currently defined in the bill, means “looking in the direction of the screen” of a mobile device.
“I think that (unsafe) behavior should be prevented,” Ozawa said. “(But) I’m unconvinced that this is the right bill at this time.”
But HPD Capt. Thomas Taflinger of the Traffic Division disagreed, saying the bill, as written, is clear and that the department would enforce the measure, if enacted, in all areas. Taflinger said the department supports the bill because it would help to improve pedestrian safety.
Taylor Fujimoto, a Waipahu High School sophomore, also testified in support. She said she sees many classmates glued to their phones while crossing the street and not paying attention to traffic, calling it “a huge issue.”
Elefante said after the meeting that he believes the bill’s language is clear but takes committee members’ concerns into account. He had said he introduced the bill after hearing from a community member who raised concerns about the dangers posed by distracted pedestrians crossing the street while using mobile devices.
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