Driving is a common method for traveling around Hawaii. However, the narrow dirt roads may sometimes pose a challenge for tourists who aren’t careful behind the wheel. This was recently the case for a pair of tourists who apparently followed their GPS and drove into the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor in Kailua-Kona. “They may have gotten distracted looking for the manta tour,” said Christie, a local witness. She further explained that the area around the harbor is usually difficult to navigate.
Those tourists were lucky that good Samaritans were nearby to help. However, this only emphasizes the need for everyone visiting Hawaii to pay close attention to the road. This will allow tourists to safely enjoy the local sights. If you’re unsure where to start, here’s our quick guide on what you should know about driving in the Aloha State.
Road safety laws
Congested roads in the larger islands like Honolulu are common because of the high number of tourists. That is why many new legislations are centered around road safety, especially as traffic fatalities on the island increased in recent years. In fact, the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) recorded 14 fatal crashes involving distracted drivers in 2020, with the number jumping to 27 the following year.
HDOT Deputy Director for Highways Ed Sniffen says that people’s lives can be saved by simply following the law. As of May 2023, Senate Bill 1086 and House Bill 600 allow community members to forward safer streets. New protective barriers to roadways can be expected to be installed in the upcoming months to make sure dangerous drivers don’t veer out of the lane. Otherwise, tourists and locals are obligated to pay a minimum fine of $297 if caught texting and driving under House Bill 1692, and lawmakers hope to increase this fee to deter more people from using their devices.
The Aloha State is continuously growing as a popular tourist destination despite a rental car shortage, and Tripadvisor estimates that the average cost for a rental car in Hawaii in 2022 was $157 a day. However, despite the costs, car rentals can be necessary on the islands to make the most of your travels. Alternatives, such as traveling via a taxi or Uber can wrack up expenses that are on par or even higher than renting your own vehicle and are a lot less convenient.
Thankfully, there are ways to lower the cost of renting a car. The car rentals at Honolulu Airport are available for reservation months in advance, so tourists can lock in a rate before the peak season and secure their vehicle of choice. Having the right rental car is important for your enjoyment and safety, especially because there are several miles of unpaved roads on some of the popular coastal drives. If you plan on exploring these roads, reserving a Jeep Wrangler or a compact SUV will be ideal. Otherwise, you can also opt for a hybrid or electric car for a more sustainable means of transportation.
Best scenic drives
Hawaii’s many coastal drives are an experience on their own. The Road to Hana in Maui, for instance, is one of the most popular drives in Hawaii that will take you along 68 miles of lush forestry and towering waterfalls. Meanwhile, the drive on the Windward side of Oahu will show you breathtaking ocean views. You can even stop over at different beaches — such as Kailua, Kalama, or Lanikai Beach — along the way.
For colorful sunset and sunrise viewings, you can drive along Haleakala Highway and watch over the valleys, lava fields, and silversword ferns of Haleakala National Park. After Mauna Loa ceased erupting at the end of 2022, tourists are now able to return to traveling along the Mauna Loa Strip Road to take a closer look at the world’s tallest volcano.
Hawaii has many different sights to offer, and almost all of these can be accessed via driving. As long as you follow local laws and focus on driving safely, your trip to Hawaii will be one to remember for a lifetime.