ATVs now bound to rules of the road
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Wai'anae Coast Writer
By Will Hoover
Police have adopted an aggressive new strategy to crack down on the illegal use of all-terrain vehicles on the beaches, shorelines and roads of the Wai'anae Coast.
For years, folks on the Wai'anae Coast have complained about ATV operators flouting the law, harming the environment and endangering the public as they dart onto roadways, tear through beach parks and plow up state shorelines.
Until recently, police and state enforcement officers had responded by saying their hands were tied because ATVs aren't regulated, they don't fit any clear definition, and authorities are short-staffed and hard-pressed to deal with more serious crimes.
This year, however, Wai'anae police have seized a half-dozen ATVs and issued dozens more citations with stiff fines to ATV owners caught on the highway, in beach parks or otherwise disobeying the law.
Jo Jordan, chairwoman of the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board, called the new approach a positive move in a community that's fed up with the problem.
"It's like the wild, wild west out there," Jordan said. "These guys think their ATVs are regular vehicles on the roadways and they can do anything they want. They don't stop at stop signs; they expect you go get out of their way. This sounds like HPD is trying to force some rules — not in a bad way, but in a good way."
Tired of being inundated with ATV complaints and listening to a crescendo of ATV disapproval at every neighborhood board meeting, police decided to change their approach.
Instead of looking at an ATV as something difficult to define, they now view it as just another vehicle on the highway. Therefore, ATV operators are bound, in the words of the Honolulu Police Department's Maj. Michael Moses, "to obey all the rules of the road."
The new strategy has gotten the attention of ATV operators.
Earlier this year, officer Michael Kahikina and several fellow officers boxed in two ATVs at a Wai'anae Tesoro station after they spotted the drivers tooling along Farrington Highway and going into the station to fill up with gas.
"Because we'd seen them driving on the highway, we cited them just like we would any other traffic stop — for things like no registration, no insurance, no safety sticker and no license," said Kahikina, HPD's community policing officer for the Wai'anae Coast.
'IT WAS EMBARRASSING'
For Joseph Silva, 37, one of the two ATV operators, the encounter was a rude awakening.
"They made us sit down by the gas pump, and they give us one whole long lecture for 45 minutes," Silva recalled. "They ended up towing our quads (four-wheel ATVs) to the junkyard, and then he gave us two citations for no registration and no safety check sticker. I ended up with, like, $140 in tickets, and $115 in towing and storage charges — it was like $255."
Silva said he got nowhere pleading for leniency.
"It was embarrassing because he held us there at the pump, and the place was real busy," he said. "And we even explained to him 'We know we're not supposed to be on the road, and if you can just let us go with one warning.' And he was going, 'No! No! It's like every day we get complaints,' and all that. And he said he was going to use us for an example, and we go could tell all our friends."
Silva fared better than his companion, who was not only ticketed for registration and safety check violations, but was arrested on an outstanding warrant. On top of that, police discovered that the ATV he was operating was stolen, Kahikina said.
William Aila also applauds HPD's ATV enforcement campaign.
"It will add to the effort that our enforcement officers are doing at the state parks," said Aila, harbormaster of the Wai'anae Boat Harbor for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
In the past, Aila has blamed the lack of ATV enforcement on state beaches on the shortage of DLNR enforcement officers. Now, he said, the Legislature is allocating money for 18 or more new positions. That should go a long way to solving the ATV problem, he said.
SENATE BILL OUT THERE
Adding even more teeth to the solution is a Senate bill making its way through the Legislature that would allow enforcement officers to hand out criminal citations, make arrests and impound offending ATVs.
Kahikina points out that one of the toughest aspects of the ATV enforcement effort is catching the culprits, who frequently speed away to avoid capture.
Police are reluctant to get involved in high-speed chases with vehicles that are known for flipping over and causing serious injury. (In June 2006, a Wai'anae man was killed on an ATV, and later that year, a Wai'anae man broke his neck when his ATV overturned.)
But Kahikina reminds owners that on O'ahu, it's only lawful to operate an ATV on approved private land, or at the Kahuku Motocross Park. Otherwise, ATVs are prohibited from entering any public land or road. And he promises that he and his fellow officers will be keeping a watchful eye.
"These guys want to use their ATVs like they are ordinary vehicles," he said.
Now, police, too, will be regarding them as ordinary vehicles. And they will be writing tickets accordingly.
Reach Will Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org.