Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News

HPD officer Kevin Ching with the LTO2020 laser gun. Capt. Michael Hama said, "Before, we would just cite the driver, but ... We're going to start arresting people."
Photo by Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

Slow down,
you're busted!

Honolulu police
are cracking down on speeders

By Nadine Kam

All's not OK on the streets of Honolulu and the Honolulu Police Department is poised for a showdown.

"A can of worms," is how Traffic Division Capt. Michael Hama describes the ongoing battle between the law and drivers who speed. He wants them to know HPD is cracking down on those who view Oahu's highways as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"We're going to start enforcing the law. Before we would just cite the driver, but it's going to be real strict. We're going to start arresting people."

So far, he said, 20 arrests have been made for reckless driving. Most of the drivers have been teen-agers and youths in their 20s, perhaps because with school out for summer, every night is a perfect night to go cruising.

"What we have is kids and young adults racing lowriders and altered vehicles and creating a hazard on our freeways, and we're not going to tolerate that any longer."

Members of the lowrider community welcome the effort, having over the past few years seen their reputation tarnished by a handful of unruly individuals.

"If we see punk action, we might go up to the driver and say, 'Why are you being a punk?'" said Eddie Moetului of Midnight Custom, an auto shop specializing in lowriders.

"If that's the case, put your car in the garage because we don't want to get blamed for some idiot's action. That's an unfair shake."

Said Hama, "Legitimate car clubs have been around for some time, and that's OK. They fix up cars, spend their money. It's a hobby. That's not our problem.

"But what we find is a lot of kids forming clubs and they're challenging each other on the freeways. We've clocked them going up to 100 miles per hour."

HPD asks tougher penalties

A charge of racing on the highways usually carries a fine of up to $500 and the possible suspension of one's driver's license, but HPD is working with the courts and the prosecutor's office to put more bite into penalties.

Arrests, to date, have come with no warning. But Hama says, "Don't you think these drivers know that they're breaking the law? What freeway system gives drivers a 100 m.p.h. leeway?"

The problem is islandwide, Hama said. Favored "racing" spots include the H-2 Freeway around Mililani, the H-1 by Honolulu International Airport, and the Kalanianaole Highway corridor, where last November five teens died while speeding. The accident was one of the four worst accidents on Oahu since 1988, when five died and three were injured in a head-on accident on Kalanianaole near Makapuu.

Hama said the police will not target specific vehicles, but said that his district commanders say offenders tend to drive altered vehicles, which cannot be operated without a $15 permit from the City & County.

If the rules aren't clear, ask

There are 80 pages of Department of Transportation regulations that specify what can and cannot be done in reconstructing a vehicle, and for many who do the alterations, the first they hear of them is when they receive a citation or fail to pass a safety inspection. In both cases they are sent to the Motor Vehicle Control Section, dubbed "Recon Station."

"Most do the modification because everyone else is, but they don't put in the time to study the rules and regulations," said Gary Tashima, supervisor for the Recon Station, where inspections for a reconstructed vehicle's road-worthiness are done.

"They vent their anger on us. They say a lot of not so nice things, and sure, we feel sorry for them because they've spent all this money and find (their cars) are not legal, but there's nothing we can do, and it's often expensive to bring a car back to specification."

Because the regulations are written in "bureaucratese," some who read them feel the rules are subject to interpretation. But Tashima said if there's any doubt, a simple phone call to his department will result in a red or green light for the modification.

A charge of racing usually carries a fine of up to $500 and a possible license suspension, but HPD is working to put more bite into penalties. Photo by Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

The positives of lowriders

The regulations for reconstruction haven't changed since 1986, Hama said. The rules were created in the early '80s, in part, to combat the problem of stolen vehicles and parts.

By enforcing speed laws, Hama said, "our solution is two-fold. We have a detective division to deal with stolen cars, so it's not like we're targeting stolen vehicles. But if they're out there, we'll find them.

"If we stop an altered vehicle they're going to have to produce the permit. Reconstructed vehicles will be addressed; stolen vehicles will be addressed.

"It's working smarter, and we want the community to be aware of what we're doing so they can be our eyes and ears.

"We're gonna make the streets safer."

Authentics car club president Bob Ostovich isn't sure a tougher stance is enough. He said law enforcers should take more of an advocacy position.

"HPD should get a little more involved with lowrider shows. Go out there and see what the kids are doing. Lowriding boosts self-esteem, gives them confidence and technical knowledge that they don't get in the classroom.

"It's a positive thing for the most part.

"Instead of spending all their money on the courts they should give these kids a regular place to go and show their cars and hang out.

"Not everybody's an athlete and not everybody's rotten. They can't keep condemning everybody."

Keeping a car legal

The state offers a guide and inspections for reconstructed vehicles.

Copies of the Hawaii Administrative Rules for reconstructed vehicles are available for $1.25 at the Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Safety Office at Dillingham Plaza, 1505 Dillingham Boulevard, room 214. Call 832-5825.

Inspections of reconstructed vehicles are performed from 1 to 3:15 p.m. week days at the Motor Vehicle Control Section Recon Station, at 1112 Kapahulu Ave. under the H-1 Freeway. Permits are $15. Call 733-2542.

The Related Story:

Riding with the Lowriders

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