One of the great frustrations expressed to my office on a regular basis is the number of junk cars scattered throughout our beautiful district. This year, the legislature passed a bill to help address the problem. Should the Governor approve HB2442, state law will require counties to take abandoned vehicles into custody within ten business days of abandonment.
An important update to the law is clarification that a vehicle will be considered derelict if a new owner has not filed the transfer of title within 30 days after release by the prior owner, or if it has not been registered for at least 12 months. A major impediment for county action has been the time needed to clarify ownership and serve notice of the abandoned vehicle.
State law requires vehicle owners to update their registration within 30 days whenever the mailing address or owner’s name is changed. When a vehicle is sold, the seller must notify the county registration department within 10 days and the buyer must file notice within 30 days, or they face fines of $100 and $50, respectively. Anyone convicted of abandoning a vehicle is subject to a fine up to $1000.
Probably the most significant factor in the epidemic of abandoned vehicles is that the price of scrap metal has plummeted from $120 a ton, two years ago, to virtually zero today. Without a market for scrap metal, the private towing and wrecking business has dried up. Honolulu County processes about 400 abandoned and derelict vehicles a month. With the collapse of metal recycling and the requirements to locate vehicle owners, county storage space has been pushed beyond capacity.
On Oahu, seven dollars of the annual vehicle registration fee goes to the wonderfully titled “The Highway Beautification and Disposal of Abandoned or Derelict Vehicles Revolving Fund.” In 2017, Honolulu’s fund collected more than $4.6 million dollars. Of these funds, the largest portion is spent on clearing abandoned and derelict vehicles. Smaller amounts are appropriated to maintenance of highway medians and tree trimming.
Counties may charge up to $2 per year per registration “For the purpose of beautification and other related activities of highways under the ownership, control, and jurisdiction of each county; and to defray the additional cost in the disposition and other related activities of abandoned or derelict vehicles.” Counties may collect up to an additional $8, provided that the extra amount is used only for the abandoned and derelict vehicles.
Honolulu’s Department of Customer Services coordinates towing, storage, processing and disposal of abandoned and derelict vehicles on Oahu. Lack of storage space continues to be the greatest challenge. At any time, the county is managing more than 600 vehicles and no private land owner wants to accept the environmental responsibility for junk cars, oils and fluids.
To report an abandoned vehicle, call 768-2530 or enter the details online at http://www11.honolulu.gov/csdavcomplaints/