State senators livid as new safety check decal problem surfaces

State senators livid as new safety check decal problem surfaces
Updated: Feb. 19, 2014 at 5:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Senate leaders were upset after Hawaii News Now revealed that the state's new safety check program has a big problem: common household cleaners such as rubbing alcohol and nail polish wipe away the printing from new safety check decals.

After Hawaii News Now's story first aired Tuesday night, Norman Verbanic of Hilo contacted us and said he was shocked when he was cleaning around his new safety sticker on his Cadillac last month using break cleaner.  When he rubbed slightly into the sticker, part of the printing wiped right off.

"Lo and behold, it erased it just like it was a dry erase board.  And I was like, oh my goodness this thing is junk," Verbanic said.

Starting Nov. 1, the state began a new iPad-based safety check system that for the first time had gas stations and auto shops print out safety check decals. Previously, the emblems were pre-printed and color-coded by year.

Wednesday, Hawaii News Now tested the old decals by rubbing the printed numbers for one minute with nail polish remover and they didn't degrade at all. All the printing wipes off the new decals after just ten to 15 seconds of swipes with rubbing alcohol, brake cleaner or nail polish remover.

State Senate President Donna Kim said the State Transportation Department blew it.

"They proceeded without really doing their due diligence.  Without really going into the field and seeing what's going on. And it's a waste of our taxpayers' money at this point in time," Kim said.

Kim and some other lawmakers have unsuccessfully pushed for legislation in previous years to abolish annual safety checks or require them less frequently -- like every two or three years.  Hawaii is one of just a handful of states that still requires annual safety checks.

Senators said the DOT changed the program without warning or consulting them.

"As the chair of the Senate Transportation and International Affairs committee, I found out about this change by watching you on TV," said Maui State Sen. J. Kalani English.  "So there was no consultation with the policy setting body about changing the policy on this."

Ewa State Sen. Will Espero, a member of the Senate's transportation committee, said, "The issue of the stickers being able to be erased with certain compounds is alarming because there is now the possibility of fraud and abuse."

State DOT spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said the decals were designed to hold up under normal vehicle washing and wear and tear, claiming that brake cleaner and nail polish remover aren't considered "normal use."

But Kim and Espero didn't buy that argument.

"You have to make sure that your stickers go beyond just the normal compounds that you would use in your household.  Because it's not in your household.  It's on your vehicle and all the weather and the elements," Kim said.

"Obviously, it's not a satisfactory answer because residents have shown that other compounds can remove the print," Espero said.

English is concerned the contractor may not be fulfilling the contract

"You have to have a safety sticker that is durable, that can withstand weather, that can withstand compounds, that can withstand the roads.  And clearly, this safety sticker does not meet that standard," English said.

While contractor Parsons Environmental and Infrastructure was the low bidder on the project, Sluyter said price was just one of several factors considered when it awarded the contract, including method, equipment and service.

Parsons submitted test results to the state that showed the decals did not change when washed with a cotton swab and 12 compounds including "mild detergents" such as Windex window cleaning solution or 409 spray cleaner.

But the tests did not include acetone-based cleaners such as nail polish remover.

Sluyter released a statement that said the wanted a safety check sticker that would "... stand up to the elements and normal wear and tear of vehicle use and washing for three years.  It has good durability under these conditions."

Sluyter said the state is always concerned about fraud and that's why the new stickers now have both the vehicle's license plate number and vehicle information number  printed on them to help deter theft and make it difficult for car thieves to use the stickers on a different vehicle.

Parsons was the low bidder, getting paid $1.69 for each safety check inspection.  The next lowest bidder, Worldwide Environmental, bid $1.85 for each safety check.

Under Parson's contract, the state DOT is paid $1.70 for each inspection and the mechanic or auto shop is paid approximately $15.80.

About 900,000 safety inspections are performed on automobiles each year in Hawaii.

Parsons' one-year contract expires this November but the state could grant the company three more one-year extensions, Sluyter said.

Senators said they hope the DOT will force the contractor to improve the stickers, if the company is granted a contract extension.

"We're going to have to keep a very close eye on and make certain that DOT, when it is talking with the vendor at the renewal time, that they are able to make improvements and make certain that the problem with the sticker does not happen," Espero said.

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