New abandoned car law not major issue for county

Act 48 gives counties 10 business days to remove vehicles from isle roadsides

A pair of cars marked “derelict” await towing along Kuihelani Highway on Friday afternoon. A new state law, signed last week by Gov. David Ige, requires the county to remove abandoned and derelict vehicles from roadsides within 10 business days of declaring them abandoned. The Maui News /MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui County’s abandoned vehicles staff does not see many major problems with a new state law requiring counties to remove and dispose of abandoned vehicles along public roads within 10 business days of being declared abandoned.

Last week, Gov. David Ige signed Act 48 into law requiring the timely removal of abandoned vehicles from roads. The measure nixes the requirement that abandoned vehicles be sold at public auction and allows vehicles to be disposed of more quickly and efficiently, said a news release from Ige’s office.

The law also makes it easier to classify vehicles as “derelict” or inoperable, which eliminates the storage requirement, freeing up space at tow yards, and sends the vehicle directly for disposal.

“Since we were already doing all right with the 10-day requirement, we are going to proceed as usual and start acting to develop the administrative rules over the next year,” said Tamara Farnsworth, the coordinator of the Environmental Protection and Sustainability Division, which is under the county’s Department of Environmental Management.

Farnsworth said the bill is “a bit Honolulu-centric.” The largest city in Hawaii probably has the state’s worst issues with abandoned vehicles on roadsides and a lack of holding space.

That’s not to say, Maui doesn’t have its own abandoned vehicles problems, with the county towing about 1,700 vehicles for this fiscal year, which comes to an end Saturday. Fiscal 2017, from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017, saw about the same number of towed vehicles at 1,724.

But in fiscal 2016, there were 1,130 tows, 799 towed cars for fiscal 2015 and 463 in fiscal 2014.

“It has been really challenging to meet that increased demand,” Farnsworth said.

Still, Maui has a good system for picking up the vehicles and has enough storage at its Puunene facility that vehicles do not have to be cycled through the system quickly, she added.

The process starts with police, who respond to a report of a possible abandoned vehicle. Police officers will investigate and if warranted, place a sticker on the vehicle, notifying the owner of the abandonment. They also check the odometer and mark the tires.

Officers then return in 24 to 48 hours. If the vehicle hasn’t been moved, officers file an abandoned vehicle report, which goes to the county, where the abandoned vehicles staff dispatch tow companies. The companies have 48 hours to tow the vehicle to the storage site.

If owners do not claim the vehicle, it heads to public auction.

The same process is used to determine if a vehicle is derelict or inoperable and possibly stripped. Police officers also investigate to see if the vehicle is stolen. Derelict vehicles are recycled and/or hauled away as scrap.

Farnsworth said the Alan Arakawa administration will be working with all the stakeholders including Maui police on changing administrative rules to support the new law. She warned, though, that the new law may be difficult to follow.

For one, the county may receive an abandoned vehicle report from police as soon as a day after the report is made or it could take the police, who are busy with more pressing matters, longer to submit the reports. This would cut into the 10-business day time-frame.

More time could be lost if the county’s contracted tow companies are busy; it could take more than a day or two for a tow company to remove a vehicle from the roadside. The county may send out requests for 20 abandoned cars at a time be towed, she said.

In testimony to the Legislature in opposition to the bill, Farnsworth said some vehicles may need to be cleaned of trash before towing and special equipment may need to be ordered for certain tows, requiring special procurement and logistics, all of which slows the removal process.

Abandoned vehicles programs in the counties are understaffed with budgets stretched to the limits, she added.

In Maui County, there is a two-person abandoned vehicles staff: Farnsworth, who is the abandoned vehicles and metals administrator, and Allyson Higa, the abandoned vehicles coordinator.

There are ambiguities in the law as well. The new law offers a different criteria for determining whether a vehicle is derelict before being hauled away. Under the new law, a vehicle may be deemed derelict if “a major part has been removed,” Farnsworth said.

She is not exactly sure how to define “a major part” and worries that an incorrect interpretation could open up the county to liability.

“Just because you can, that doesn’t mean you should, it doesn’t mean we will,” Farnsworth said about the new criteria for determining derelict vehicles. “We are being very cautious of these changes. We are concerned about protecting the rights of the constituency.”

Although not required, Maui County will be sticking with its abandoned vehicle auction, which is done every two months, Farnsworth said.

She pointed out that the law does not lay out penalties if the 10-day requirement is not met.

Adriane Raff-Corwin, coordinator of the Sierra Club Maui Group, said she still sees a “huge amount” of abandoned cars on the side of the road, but mostly inside fields in difficult to reach places. She acknowledged that some of the abandoned cars maybe stolen but also sees some that appear to be junked intentionally.

Cars abandoned on private property including fields will not apply to the new law, Farnsworth said. The law covers vehicles “unlawfully parked on any public highway or other public property or private lands defined as a setback, shoulder, easement or right of way that is adjacent to or part of a public highway.”

Raff-Corwin called on the county to restart its subsidy program to help residents pay for disposal of cars. In fact, Farnsworth said her division has $200,000 budgeted to restart the program in August, allowing residents to have one vehicle disposed of for free. Owners still will need to pay for towing or moving expenses.

The county relies on the community to be the “eyes and the ears” to report abandoned vehicles on public property to police, she said.

For more information on reporting, disposing and claiming an abandoned vehicle, visit www.mauicounty.gov/834/Metals-and-Abandoned-Vehicles.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

COMMENTS