LIHUE —Broken down, picked apart vehicles left on the side of the road and other inconspicuous places around the island are an epidemic. Trouble is, it’s hard to track down the owners of abandoned or derelict vehicles because, more often than not, the drivers of the cars never transferred ownership.
“All of us have been inundated with calls from people about the status of these vehicles,” said Councilmember Mason Chock during last week’s council meeting.
KPD currently has more than 260 pending complaints about abandoned or derelict vehicles around the island. According to their stats, the department handled the removal of 404 abandoned and derelict vehicles during the fiscal year of 2017 and 498 for the fiscal year of 2018. During the fiscal year of 2019, they handled 653.
“This is an ongoing issue that continues to worsen,” said Assistant Chief Mark Begley. “Loopholes in our laws/statutes give opportunity for some people to abandon their vehicles without sufficient accountability.
“For every vehicle we tow away, another one appears.”
And it’s a burden that taxpayers must bear. Kauai County spent more than $411,000 handling abandoned and derelict vehicles in 2017 and around $423,00 in 2018. So far this year, the county has already spent some $491,000.
Thus, the reason that councilmembers Chock and Luke Evslin introduced two bills pertaining to “highway safety” for potential inclusion in the 2020 Hawaii State Association of Counties (HSAC) Legislative Package and the 2020 County of Kauai Legislative Package. These packages are two avenues in which the County Council can propose bills for an act at the Legislature.
The first would place the responsibility of the transfer of vehicle ownership on the seller rather than the buyer.
So that we can easily track who the current owner is, Chock said.
“We believe that placing more responsibility on the seller will encourage the seller to meet the buyer at the Motor Vehicle Registration office to transfer their vehicle title in person,” Begley said. “This would ensure that the vehicle is immediately and properly registered under the new owner’s name. It would greatly discourage and prevent fraud in the transfer process. It would protect the buyers from unpaid taxes/fines on the vehicle. And it would increase owner responsibility for abiding by the various laws and ordinances relating to vehicle ownership.”
This is a system that already works well in other states, including Pennsylvania, according to KPD. Other states, such as Arizona and New York have laws in place that require sellers to remove and surrender their license plates from the vehicle when they sell it, which requires the buyer to “quickly” register the vehicle in their name.
Under the current system of transferring vehicle titles, Evslin said, “There’s not much accountability for the person who owns the vehicle because it’s not under their name and maybe not even the last person.”
County Finance Director Reiko Matsuyama concurred that “people are abusing the system” and doing transactions “fraudulently.”
The other “highway safety” bill that is still up for discussion, also introduced by Chock and Evslin, pertains to adjusting the “beautification” fee that goes toward costs that include the removal of abandoned and derelict vehicles. Currently, the state authorizes the counties to charge residents up to $10 per year, a fee that’s incorporated into their annual vehicle registration dues. Rental car companies, however, can only be charged $1 per year per vehicle. This bill would remove that cap so that the fees would be equal.
“So we can properly take care of abandoned vehicles,” Chock said.
Councilmembers said they’ve seen their fair share of abandoned rental cars. One hot spot, in particular, that was pointed out during last week’s council meeting is near the “Blue Hole” hike, said Councilmember Felicia Cowden.
Councilmembers were largely in agreement with the second “beautification” bill but there was some hesitation regarding the first, which will be discussed in more detail on Wednesday.
“We just want to make sure we focus on the ones that have a good chance,” said Councilmember Ross Kagawa regarding the bills. “We want to make sure we have items in the package that will benefit the whole state.”
The two bills will be up for further discussion at the Housing and Intergovernmental Relations Committee of the county council meeting at 8:30 a.m. today at Council Chambers at the Historic County Building. If both bills are accepted, it’s the first step in a long process, as they will both have to undergo an extensive approval process, including committees from all Islands, before making their way to the state legislature.
Visit kauai.gov/council/committeemeetings for more information.