Hawaii's Governor Neil Abercrombie on May 20 signed into law two major traffic safety bills: one requiring all front seat and back seat vehicle occupants to wear seat belts, and the other prohibiting driving while texting with a cellphone or other handheld device. 

The latter law also prohibits handheld cellphone use while driving.

Hawaii becomes the 40th state to ban driving while texting. To view all state distracted driving laws, click here

Hawaii's new distracted driving law specifically states that its goal is to “prohibit activities such as texting, instant messaging, gaming, and e-mailing, which take a driver's eyes off the road, mind off the road, and hands off the wheel.” The legislation also cites a 2007 Hawaii Department of Transportation study that concluded driver inattention played a role in 32% of the state’s collisions that year (2,871 crashes out of 8,770).

The new seat belt law went into effect immediately. The distracted driving law takes effect July 1.

“Hawaii is putting safety first on our roadways with the enactment of our state’s universal seat belt law; this measure closes the gap in protecting all passengers riding in a motor vehicle,” Abercrombie said. “In addition, the enactment of Hawaii’s distracted driving law establishes consistency across the state for the usage of mobile electronic devices while driving, simplifying enforcement and likewise making our highways and roadways safer.”

The seatbelt law requires that all adults and children use their seat belts and child restraints during vehicle operation. The legislation cites a Hawaii Department of Health analysis of emergency medical service records, which concluded unrestrained back seat passengers were more than three times as likely to have injuries that were fatal or required hospitalization compared to restrained back seat passengers. Additionally, among back seat passengers who were treated for injuries by emergency medical services, average medical charges were nearly tripled among those who did not use seat belts ($11,043), compared to restrained passengers ($3,817).

“The Department of Health is pleased to see rates of passenger-related injuries going down based on high levels of seat belt use among front seat passengers,” said Health Director Loretta Fuddy. “We anticipate that we’ll see further reductions in injuries and death with the passage of this law for back seat passengers.”