Much of the press and several politicians are saying the recent tragedy in Kakaako, where three people were killed, another five injured, is about alcohol. What about all the people who die where impaired driving wasn’t a factor?

In my life two out of the four people I saw daily growing up were hit by cars — one was maimed, the other was murdered, both crossing streets doing things you would expect responsible people to do. Ten years ago my grandma was struck by a car. She survived because she landed in grass. Grandma never walked the same after that.

My sister, Emelia Hung, four years later would not be as lucky after being struck by a car, and would die from injuries less than a day later. Alcohol wasn’t a factor in both those events and isn’t a factor in the majority of motor vehicle related deaths.

A bill that outlaws anyone from buying alcohol after they get a driving under the influence charge is getting attention. But did the person who drove into all those people in Kakaako have a standing DUI while driving or drunk? Would the bill, if it were law already, have stopped the tragedy in Kakaako?

Remember, speed kills.

Flickr: N1NJ4

By punishing someone who already has a DUI, we are already letting them endanger the public. There have been many laws over years regarding drinking and driving and none of them have changed the fact that traffic fatalities in Hawaii are still very high, relative to many other places.

The intentions of legislation about drunk driving are well meaning, and I support them. Any effort to make streets safer is welcome, as well as moving dialogue more toward a focus on driver responsibility. However, the focus on drinking misses the point, something the Honolulu Police Department has highlighted more, that it was a speeding vehicle that ended those lives in Kakaako, like so many other lives, and takes away from the more fundamental discussion of how do we prevent car collision deaths in general.

‘Cars Kill More People Than Guns’

Years ago there was a mass shooting at an African-American church in the U.S. South, and there was all this focus on the person’s ideology and the Confederate flag. But ultimately it didn’t change the fundamental problem of it is way too easy to get a gun in the U.S.

Mass shootings capture the attention of the press though, just like three people dying, another five being injured after being hit by a car in Kakaako did. But mass shootings and hate crimes are overall a small percent of gun deaths, just like impaired driving is only a small percent of traffic fatalities. And in the United States, cars kill more people than guns, in Hawaii cars kill more people than guns, 1.5 to 4 times as much, depending on the year.

“There is no justice in this world, not unless we make it,” says George R.R. Martin. And the best justice for those who’ve died in these tragedies is to make sure it never happens again.

The Hawaii Bicycling League is focusing on these types of bills this legislative session, and they are great examples that make a positive difference. They include “Vision Zero” bills, which are based off the idea that we can have zero traffic fatalities. Another bill protects pedestrians, including forcing cars to slow down in densely populated areas. The Hawaii Bicycling League is also advocating legislation pushing for cameras that capture pictures of speeding cars, which in turn should discourage people from speeding if drivers knew they were present.

Also, the bar needs to be raised for car accessibility. As it was put in a recent Civil Beat article, we have too many cars on Oahu, and legislation also needs to be passed to address this.

Though policies that push for punishment and prevention should be supported, prevention should be more of a priority than punishment. Better to prevent lives from being broken and lost, then to simply punish people who perpetrate crimes after the lives have been lost. Though punishment may disincentivize bad behavior, thus preventing more of it, there should be concrete motions that prioritize prevention.

What happened in Kakaako was horrible and alcohol is getting a lot of attention, but it overlooks other more important factors. What would be more horrible is letting more tragedies continue to pile up.

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About the Author

  • Anthony Chang
    Anthony Chang is an advocate for travel safety. Currently a master's student at the University of Hawaii, Department of Urban and Regional planning, focusing on walkability and sustainable transportation. A long resident of Oahu since birth, Anthony travels most of his miles each week walking followed by catching TheBus.