LIHUE — Until a couple weeks ago, drivers on Kauai who either didn’t have a valid license or an auto insurance policy could get penalized twice — once for being uninsured or unlicensed and again for not being able to prove otherwise.
That policy changed on Oct. 8 when county Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar sent a memo to the Kauai Police Department in order to set new guidelines for handling these types of traffic violations. He announced that his office will be dismissing criminal charges against uninsured or unlicensed drivers if they were already ticketed for the offense under a lesser infraction.
“Our goal is to achieve consistency with the other counties and make sure we are protecting our roads without burying indigent offenders under mountains of fines that prevent them from being able to re-license or get insured,” Kollar said via email Wednesday.
An insured and licensed motorist who gets pulled over without a physical driver’s license or proof of insurance in the car can get a $122 ticket. Failure to possess either form of documentation is a traffic infraction covered by the same Hawaii statute.
Driving without a valid license or an auto insurance policy is another story.
Those are criminal offenses that carry much stiffer penalties. An unlicensed driver can get as much as a month in jail and be fined up to $1,000. Anyone who drives an uninsured car can get fined $500 and have their licensed revoked for 90 days. In both cases, it gets worse quickly for multiple offenders.
Despite the similarities between the two types of traffic offenses, there is a distinct difference in the way insurance citations are handled. The officer who writes the ticket has no way of checking to see if the car is actually covered by a policy or if the driver just doesn’t have proof in the glove box.
For instance, if you get pulled over for speeding but left your license in your other pants, the officer can check the database and see that you have a state-issued permit to drive a car but will still cite you for not having the license on your person.
There is no such database for insurance policies, or at least not one officers can access from their patrol car.
That’s a problem that, according to Kollar’s memo, KPD officers often solved by simply writing tickets for both offenses: one for being uninsured and another for not having proof of insurance.
The former would then have to prove they were insured at the time they were ticketed, and the latter would get penalized twice for one crime — it’s impossible to have proof of insurance if you don’t have any insurance.
Unlicensed drivers were also subject to double penalties, according to Kollar.
“Historically, KPD practice has been to issue citations under multiple sections to motorists found to be driving unlicensed or uninsured,” he wrote in the Oct. 8 memorandum.
Kollar aims to change that practice.
His memo recommends KPD officers ticket people for one offense or the other and says the prosecuting attorney’s office will dismiss citations for no insurance policy when the driver has already been given a ticket for not having the card on them.
When asked to comment on the memo and explain whether the prosecuting attorney’s office policy change will affect how police officers issue traffic citations, KPD Chief Todd Raybuck sent TGI the following written statement:
“KPD appreciates the prosecuting attorney’s discretion to charge cases as he believes is in the best interest of his office. KPD officers have been instructed to consider the prosecutor’s recommendations based upon the facts and circumstances of each individual situation and within the scope of their discretional authority.”
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.