Driving Maui Mad


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Taking the road test for a drivers' license has never been pleasant, but the experience brought Kalai Ing, 24, to tears. She says that while taking her test two years ago in Kahului, Maui, the examiner yelled at her while she merged with traffic and made demeaning comments before failing her. "He told me, 'Who taught you how to drive?' Ing says. "He said it must have been a female, because of how slow I was driving. It wasn't a good experience. I was scared to go back."

She's not alone. It seems as though everyone on Maui has a story to tell about the Department of Motor Vehicles. No one wants unsafe drivers on the road, but Maui may have gone overboard. Tales of nasty examiners, impenetrable red tape and a 60-percent road-test failure rate have given the Maui DMV a bad reputation.

The Maui examiners may not even know how to drive correctly, at least as safe driving is defined by the state of Hawai'i. Charles Hall, a state-certified driving instructor, says, "The examiners are very strict, and their interpretations are in some cases incorrect. We're teaching the students one thing, and [the examiners] are evaluating for something different." He says he's had students fail for not stopping at a yield sign and for letting the steering wheel slide through their hands when exiting a turn-both permitted under state regulations.

Illustration: Scott Thigpen

The head of the Maui DMV, county finance director Keith Regan, acknowledges there may be a problem, and says he is working with the state Department of Transportation to coordinate standards and practices.

Gordon Hong, the state official in charge of the project, is also considering putting county examiners through the same driver education program that certified driving instructors such as Hall undergo, to ensure everyone is on the same page. "They're understaffed, overworked and they don't have the time to do the training, so we're looking into some type of computer training," Hong says.

Understaffing and budget restrictions have been big factors in the problem, according to Regan. The main branch in Kahului, the only one currently conducting road tests (more than 9,000 last year), has just five examiners. "When the demand is growing, and you're not providing the staffing to keep up with it, you're going to run into a problem eventually," Regan says.

Maui County's 2005 budget allows for seven additional positions at the DMV, including one examiner.

The Maui DMV is also beginning to address the attitude complaints. The entire office closed on May 20 for a department-wide customer-service training day, which Regan says has already helped.

O'ahu residents might be wondering how their DMV compares. Although Honolulu DMV officials claim not to know their road test pass/fail rate, they did record the number of new licenses issued last year (12,497, not including out-of-state transfers) and the total number of road tests administered during that period (34,968). That translates to a failure rate of more than 60 percent, similar to Maui County's rate.

As far as customer service, the O'ahu DMV is actually preferred by some frustrated Maui residents, who fly to Honolulu for their road tests. After failing on Maui, Kalai Ing did just that, and passed. "I was more relaxed, because [the examiner] was calm," she says. "It was really different from taking it on Maui."

AUGUST HEADS UP!

Be nice to your sisters and friends on Aug. 1, because it’s both Sister’s Day and National Friendship Day.

Look up in the evening sky between Aug. 11 and 13 for the Perseids, the famous meteor shower. It’s rumored to be a spectacular event due to its closer approach this year.

No plans this weekend? Join the Japanese American Citizens League in celebrating its 75th anniversary at Kapi‘olani Park during the bon dance on Aug. 13 from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Event open to the public.

Put on your shoes for this year’s American Heart Walk, happening on Aug. 14 at Kapi‘olani Park (538-7021 ext. 18 for more information).

On Aug. 14 to 15, you can also watch the annual Hawai‘i Dragon Boat Festival at Ala Moana Beach Park as the boats drive off evil spirits. Call 595-6417 for more info and to register for the race.

Don’t forget to celebrate the three-day weekend by honoring Hawai‘i’s 45th birthday this year on Aug. 20. It’s Statehood Day, formerly known as Admission Day.

Rise and shine early! August is also Back-to-School Month, which means traffic increases on Aug. 23, as the University of Hawai‘i and various schools start a new school year.

August is also Admit You’re Happy Month, Romance Awareness Month and National Immunization Awareness Month.

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