Since the newest segment of Saddle Road — also known as the Daniel K. Inouye Highway and Route 200 — opened, letter writers and callers to Stephens Media Hawaii have complained that police are operating a speed trap on the east-west traffic artery.
Hawaii Police Department statistics indicate that there will be fewer speeding tickets written on Saddle Road this year than in 2012, but that doesn’t tell the entire story.
Speeding citations increased sharply from 1,125 in 2010 to 1,491 in 2011 to a high of 2,366 in 2012 — when the first segment of the improved highway was completed. By Dec. 10 of this year, there were 1,417 speeding citations issued on the route — but 517 of those were written on the newest segment of the highway between its Sept. 7 opening and Dec. 10. If that citation rate were maintained over an entire year, there would be 3,000 tickets written on that portion of road alone.
Rod Thompson of Hawaiian Paradise Park wrote in a letter published by Stephens Media Hawaii Sept. 22 that on Sept. 10, three days after the new segment opened, he saw four police cars on the route, making “no attempt to educate drivers, since at least one of the police cars was completely unmarked.” Thompson concluded that “police have chosen trickery over education.”
“There should’ve been a period in which they attempted to educate rather than to punish,” Thompson said Friday. “After that initial period, if there are fools out there … then, I guess they go back to their regular police job.”
Thompson’s complaint was echoed by Spike Werner of Hilo, who wrote in November that police “are practicing entrapment.”
“Motorists’ only reminder of the changes in speed limits are (being) penalized by the police ticketing them for what are often simple oversights,” Werner wrote.
“I believe that any state that believes in order, as in law and order, the order component would be against using unmarked police cars,” Werner said Friday. “You want the public to know that these members of the constabulary are out there letting people know that you’re not supposed to go too fast through here. … Instead, to sit there obscurely and pounce on people, that doesn’t forward order. It causes disrespect for the law.”
Werner also said speed traps “give tourists an undesirable talking point” about Hawaii.
Sgt. Robert Pauole, head of the police Traffic Services Section, acknowledged that speeding enforcement was stepped up following completion of the new segment of highway, but the aim of the ticketing is getting drivers to slow down.
“When the new section opened up, our administration wanted to ensure that it doesn’t become a free-for-all, high-speed way to go from the east to west side, so we increased our enforcement up there during that period,” Pauole said Friday. “That could account for the additional amount of tickets that was given there in that short period.”
He said speeding enforcement is continuing on Saddle Road but “has slowed from when it first opened.”
“We wanted to show a presence right away, like we did when the first section on the Hilo side opened up,” he said. “When we opened that section up, we wanted to increase our presence there, because our administration knew that (speeding) was going to become a problem.
“If you look, you’ll see that traffic fatalities on the Hamakua Coast has decreased, and a lot of it has to do with the opening up of this new highway, because it’s a faster way to get (to West Hawaii).”
Pauole said that drivers “are getting the message” that they need to slow down on Saddle Road. He added that the patrols have been subsidized by a National Transportation Safety Board grant to combat aggressive driving. He said the grant “covers the major highways on our island” and targets violations such as speeding, tailgating, passing on double-solid lines and reckless driving.
He added that so-called “excessive speeding” — drivers exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 mph — is also a concern.
“With those citations, I like to see where they’re enforcing and what kinds of speeds we’re talking about, because I maintain the grants,” Pauole said. “I noticed that we were getting some in the 90s and 100s. The motorcycles, especially, are really bad. We had a few motorcycles that never stopped. We initiated some cases where we weren’t even able to get a license plate (number).”
Thompson said he believes the long, straight stretch of Saddle Road causes some drivers to speed unconsciously, a phenomenon sometimes called “highway hypnosis.”
“It’s a problem that any good road … tends to make people comfortable and tends to sort of obscure the fact that they’re moving rapidly,” he said. “If you’re on a narrow road, you see trees whipping by and you realize you’re going fast. If you have a wide road, you can even innocently speed up without knowing you’re doing it. I’m not saying everyone is innocent, but I’m saying some people are just lacking caution rather than having real intent of breaking the law.”
Pauole acknowledged that can be a problem, especially for drivers heading east at about the 11-mile marker, where the improved state highway ends and the old county road, with its speed limit of 35 mph, begins.
“You’re driving along and all of a sudden the highway turns into that old, winding and narrow road, and it drops down. It’s not so much they don’t know but they just get complacent driving this nice highway for a while,” he said. “And no matter how many signs they have, flashing lights and road bumps, people are still going too fast in that area and they end up in the bushes.
“People need to become more aware of that section. … The roadway changes from state to county and you can see the difference because that phase of the highway hasn’t been built yet. The county did a really great job of putting additional signs on the county side that indicate that there are bends in the road.
“We just want people to be aware of the changes. There are a lot of accidents there and we want people to be careful.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.