As the godfather and hanai brother to a loved one lost to a drunk driver, I respectfully disagree with K. Kanani Souza’s editorial (Community Voice, Dec. 10, “Rethinking a ‘Zero Tolerance’ Approach to Drunken Driving”).

NOTE: pick the correct link

In it, she explains that the imposition of stricter laws will place greater demands on prosecutors to litigate with “precision, skill and specialized training because of [the] technical and scientific aspects.”

While this may very well be true, the importance of this public policy is lost; i.e., if you drink, you should not drive. In fact, the Hawaii Driver’s Manual states “Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants is prohibited in Hawaii.”

Furthermore, it advises, “You must refrain from driving when you have ingested an intoxicant.”

Everything Ms. Souza pointed out regarding the admissibility of the chemical test is already applicable for persons suspected of operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant (known as an OVUII). For adults, that limit is .08 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

At the point a chemical test is requested by law enforcement, the individual has the choice of either agreeing or refusing to take the test. If the individual agrees, the time it takes to administer the test may take hours depending if a blood test is desired by the individual. The individual would be taken to an emergency room or another healthcare facility to have the blood drawn.

Traffic Lights along Waialae Avenue.
The author maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding drunk driving is essential to public safety. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The time it takes to have the test administered allows the individual’s body to metabolize the alcohol contained within the system. As such, by the time the test results are available, the individual’s blood alcohol content level may be considerably lower than it was at the time in which the incident had occurred. Should the BAC level be found lower than .08, then no violation would have taken place.

This poses a major challenge when it comes to enforcing the current law. Through anecdotal conversations, we have learned that on any given night between 30 to 40 drivers are detained on suspicion of OVUII. This equates to approximately 11,000 to 15,000 detainments per year.

Yet because of the time it takes to test the BAC level of drivers, as well as the reluctance by the Honolulu prosecutor to prosecute these types of crimes, data shows that only 5,992 of the detained drivers are arrested.

If the “zero tolerance” policy for minors were to be applied to adults, law enforcement would need to merely show that the offender had a measurable amount of alcohol in the minor’s blood. This would make enforcement much easier and serve as an even greater deterrent to OVUII. Also, if the individual refuses to take the test, as noted by Ms. Souza, the individual faces a longer license revocation period with the Administrative Driver’s License Revocation Office.

Unfortunately, Hawaii leads the nation on the number of crashes involving drunk drivers and deaths attributed to drunk drivers (on a per capita basis). This is the failure of a public policy that leaves it up to the individual to determine whether he or she has reached a subjective level of intoxication (i.e., .08 grams of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath).

Daily Nightmare

A “zero tolerance” policy addresses this issue by mandating that if an individual wants the privilege of operating a vehicle in the state of Hawaii, the individual must not have a measurable amount of alcohol in their blood while operating the vehicle at any time.

Lastly, Ms. Souza implies that if the laws are too strict, people will merely ignore them and keep driving while intoxicated. There is some truth to this. No matter what lawmakers do, there will always be some who will refuse to obey the law.

However, if a “zero tolerance” policy is able to get the majority, or a few, or even a single intoxicated driver off our roads, then that is one less potential victim who would have to live the daily nightmare that my ohana goes through.

Don’t you think that it is worth it?

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About the Author

  • Ron Shimabuku
    Ron Shimabuku is the hanai brother and godfather to the late Kaulana Matthew Auwae Werner, who fell victim to a drunk driver in a hit-and-run crash in 2016 in Nanakuli. During the 2018 Hawaii State Legislature, he led a grassroots campaign to enhance the criminal penalties for individuals convicted of drunk driving, negligent homicide and failing to render aid. Act 40, also known as Kaulana’s Law, was established in November 2017. Shimabuku has more than two decades of experience in the healthcare sector and is currently the director of programs for the Hawaii Primary Care Association.