Sober driving advocates rally for awareness during the holidays, and always
November 23, 2023, 8:11 AM HST
* Updated November 23, 8:23 AM
The County Building in Wailuku was illuminated in green on Wednesday in honor of those who lost their lives as a result of impaired driving. Itʻs part of the 5th Annual Hannah Brown Memorial Impaired Driving Awareness Checkpoint and holiday sign-waving event.
“I’ve done this for a fifth year, and it’s still not easy,” said Charlene Brown, who reflected upon her daughter, Hannah, who would have been celebrating her 24th birthday next Wednesday.
Hannah was the passenger in a vehicle that was struck and killed by an impaired driver who was traveling in the wrong direction on the Kūihelani Highway in June of 2019.
Organizers are asking the public to celebrate safely this holiday season, and “Think before you drink.” The goal is to remind the public of the dangers related to impaired driving, and to ask everyone to make the smart choice this holiday season—”Don’t drive impaired.”
While the community event was created following Hannah Brown’s passing, it celebrates all of those whose lives were cut short by an impaired driver.
Andrea Maniago began volunteering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 2009 after losing her 16-year-old son Kaio Fukushima to a drunk driver.
“At the time that we lost him, he was 16 years old. He was killed in a crash about 14 years ago, and the reason why I don’t use the word ‘accident’ is because the boy that killed him decided to drink, decided to get in a car and drive. So unfortunately it never gets easier,” said Maniago.
Rick Collins with the Hawaiʻi Alcohol Policy Alliance and director of Drug-Free Coalitions with the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute, wants the state to lower the blood alcohol threshold. He is among the sober driving advocates that are pushing lawmakers to lower the blood alcohol concentration for impaired driving from .08 to .05.
“Lead researchers say there is no better drunk driving strategy out there,” said Collins. “Currently there are over 100 countries around the world that have already lowered it to .05 or lower. We’re talking 85% of the world’s population… we really are outliers, but we really can be champions of this,” he said.
Charlene Brown is also pushing for change at the legislative level.
“We’re going to make sure that these laws get changed, so that if you kill somebody on that road because you decided to make a bad choice and drink and drive, you should spend the rest of your life in jail, no if ands or buts,” she said.
“As we reflect on the impact of Hannah’s untimely departure, let us also take a moment to consider the ripple effect… the pain of such a loss is immeasurable, and it is our collective responsibility to turn that pain into action and to say ‘No more,'” said Collins
Senator Troy Hashimoto said the event reminds him of the continued work that needs to be done to ensure the message to ‘don’t drink and drive’ reaches the community.
“I love all the signs, because it’s really the youth out there that are going to help us lead the way,” said Hashimoto. A group of students from the youth program at Maui Economic Opportunity joined the event with signs to remind drivers of the dangers and tragedy that comes from drunk driving.
The Maui Police Department is kicking off its impaired driving campaign with enhanced checkpoints and saturation patrols, which will run throughout the holiday season.
So far this year, there were 15 traffic fatalities on Maui County roads compared to 17 at the same time last year, police said. The fatalities were from 13 crashes, according to police. Out of those, 10 were drug and/or alcohol related, seven had speed as a contributing factor, and 11 had a combination of speed, drugs and/or alcohol, which comprises 85% of the county’s fatal crashes this year.
“The deaths arising from impaired driving are 100% preventable,” according to Traffic Division Lieutenant Kenneth Kihata. “We ask everyone: If you are celebrating the holiday season, celebrate responsibly. Pre-plan a safe way home, use a taxi or ride share app, or designate a sober driver,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this almost 20 years now and the hardest cases I’ve handled have been traffic fatality cases,” said Maui Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Martin. “It’s not because of the legal issues—although those are challenging. It’s because when I walk into a room as a prosecutor to meet a family who lost their loved one due to impaired driving fatality, the way I’m introduced to the victim, the way I get to know the victim, is through the pain, the suffering, and the grief that their family experiences.”
Retired Maui Police Department Lieutenant William Hankins used an analogy to the Lahaina fires in describing the proactive approach needed to impaired driving.
“They’re talking now about prevention—making sure it never happens again in Lahaina. Absolutely, we all can agree. Let’s do the same thing with impaired driving. Let’s step forward and do something positive to prevent these things from happening… Right now, as of today, Honolulu is at 52 fatalities this year… that’s that many more people that won’t be coming home because of traffic crashes,” said Hankins.