Is towing the answer? Council unclear on window tinting bill

HILO — Should police be able to impound your car because its windows are too dark?

A bill giving police that discretion has encountered rough going after some County Council members began applying the brakes to what at first seemed easy approval of a bill adding towing as an option when windows are tinted darker than allowed by law.


Bill 64, sponsored by Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, was approved 8-1 during its first reading last month. But some council members are now having second thoughts and want to hear from police and prosecutors before moving the bill forward. After a postponement earlier this month, it’s scheduled to be heard Wednesday.

Lee Loy, who’s married to a police officer, said darkly tinted windows, which violate state law, create additional hazards for officers and also pedestrians and bicyclists who can’t make eye contact with drivers when crossing streets.

“I’m going to get real passionate about this one,” Lee Loy said at a June 4 hearing. “One of the letters of support call out a specific event in which we lost an officer. So if there’s any compassion on this dais right now, I’d like to hear it. Because I am trying to keep more than our officers safe.”

Council members who had supported the bill said they’ve been getting a lot of feedback from constituents worried about police overreach and the personal cost of retrieving vehicles that have been towed.

“I have serious reservations about providing that power. I think that we’re in a tough time for our police officers in general — there’s a lot of struggles,” said Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas. “I think the consequence does not suit the potential crime. … I think this has the potential to cause more conflict.”

Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder also questioned leaving towing to an officer’s discretion.

“It does open a door to allow for officers to make decisions based on character of the driver,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said.

Federal and state laws mandate windshields and any windows required for driver visibility to allow more than 70% of light in. Rear and rear side windows in Hawaii are allowed to be darker, allowing more than 35% of light in. Fines for violators range from $250 to $500.

Other council members said potential violations should be taken care of during annual safety checks of vehicles, so there’s probably no need for towing.

But Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung, the council chairman, said allowing towing could catch those with illegal tints who somehow slip through the safety inspection process.

“It’s illegal anyway already,” Chung said. “With all the rash of police officer shootings we’ve had lately, it’s an important thing because we don’t know who the heck is in these cars.”

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