Driving in Hawai’i
Hawai'i is often described as a paradise, and it's more than just the tropical beauty of the islands that makes life feel idyllic. According to Hawai'i resident Doug Nordman, the spirit of aloha informs most interactions on the islands, including those that happen on the road. "We call it 'driving with aloha,'" Nordman writes. "People rarely cut you off. We use our blinkers and take turns. We patiently stack up in the slow lane for an exit ramp instead of darting in at the last second."
Of course, just because the scenery is gorgeous and the fellow drivers are polite should not blind you to the fact that driving in Hawai'i does have potential dangers. There are specific hazards that any driver may face while on the road in Hawai'i, and it pays to know exactly what you can expect before you go for a drive. Here's what you need to know about the unique challenges and potential risks of driving in the Aloha State:
Automobile Insurance Requirements in Hawai’i
Hawai'i is a "no-fault" insurance state, which means that every driver must carry both liability insurance and personal injury protection insurance to comply with the law. With the no-fault system, if you are in a car accident, even if it is clearly not your fault, you will file a claim with your insurance company for damages.
You must carry basic coverage that includes the following minimums:
- $10,000 for personal injury protection. It's important to remember that this protection only covers injuries and only covers up to certain limits.
- $20,000 for bodily injury, per person.
- $40,000 for total bodily injury if multiple people are injured.
- $10,000 for property damage.
Since these minimums are relatively low, most drivers will choose to purchase additional coverage, such as collision coverage, comprehensive coverage, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
Trucks and Tuners: Car Culture in Hawai'i
The beach is an important part of Hawaiian life, so it should come as no surprise that trucks are pretty ubiquitous throughout the islands. According to Robert Kapuni Patcho, "In Hawai'i, every household owns a truck. We are surrounded by an ocean and we are known to be beach dwellers. So a truck is a must in Hawai'i."
The Hawaiian love for trucks is a bit more pragmatic than the kind of pickup truck culture you might find in mainland states. Tasha Boteilho writes "People in Hawai'i will purchase a vehicle that suits their family size and needs. I have a truck because we surf and camp a lot, and my husband has an SUV so our family of 5 can be comfortable while driving."
However, though Hawaiian drivers tend to make practical car choices, you can still find a thriving culture of car enthusiasts who love to upgrade their rides. Nordman writes: "Many of Hawai'i's young adults are 'tuners' who upgrade their coupes into hot cars with performance body parts, noisy mufflers, and noisier sound systems." But even within this subculture of car tuners, you'll still find that everyone embodies the spirit of aloha. Hawaiian tuners respect each other's diverse passions for car modifications, and they treat their hobby with the same mellow and amiable politeness you can expect everywhere else on the road.
Urban vs. Rural Driving
As a chain of islands, the state of Hawai'i is naturally going to have far more urban roads than rural ones. There simply isn't much room for isolated roads on a series of small islands. The roadways center around urban areas. This is why 82.2 percent of vehicle miles driven in Hawai'i occur on urban roads, according to studies of driving patterns from 2015.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, the extremely high percentage of urban driving in Hawai'i actually correlates to fewer traffic fatalities. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, that's because rural roads are more dangerous than urban roads: car crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled is 2.6 times higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Not only are crashes in urban areas more likely to occur at lower speeds due to traffic congestion, but urban roads are also generally closer to emergency services, which means that even serious crashes in urban environments are generally more survivable.
Altogether, this means Hawai'i enjoys relatively low traffic fatality statistics overall. As of 2010, there were only a total of 113 traffic deaths in Hawai'i, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of those 113 fatalities, 37 percent occurred in rural areas, while 63 percent occurred on urban roads. This bears out the relative danger of rural driving, since less than 17.8 percent of the vehicle miles driven account for 37 percent of the traffic fatalities.
But just because Hawai'i's few rural roads are more dangerous than urban roads does not mean drivers can ignore the hazards of getting behind the wheel in the city. It's always smart to drive defensively, no matter where you are.
Filling Your Tank in Paradise
Gassing up your vehicle in Hawai'i can take a big bite out of your wallet, since the state's distance from the mainland means higher prices for fuel. As of Nov. 15, 2017, AAA calculates the national average cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline at $2.564 per gallon. But Hawaiian drivers are paying an average of $3.233 per gallon – and drivers in Wailuku can expect to pay $3.692 per gallon.
The wallet-busting cost of gas does have one potential upside, however. Higher gas prices mean that fewer people are out on the road, which means there are fewer traffic accidents.
Miles Driven in Hawai'i
Considering the high prices at the gas pump – and the fact that it's not possible to drive to a neighboring state – it's unsurprising that Hawaiians log fewer miles on their cars than the average American. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the average American drove 13,476 miles per year as of 2014, while Hawaiians only put 11,104 miles per year on their vehicles.
Hawaiian drivers are saving money by driving less – and not just at the gas pump. Putting fewer miles on your car means you are also lowering the amount of regular and irregular maintenance you need to do to keep your ride purring like a kitten. According to the financial blog My Money Design, such maintenance costs approximately $0.26/mile. This means the average American can expect to spend approximately $3,504 per year in vehicle maintenance, while the average Hawaiian will be spending approximately $2,887. That's just over $600 in savings.
However, where you drive can also affect your maintenance costs, and Hawai'i is well known for its poor roads. According to a 2015 story in The Washington Post, 35 percent of Hawai'i's roads are in poor condition, which is defined as having "so many major ruts, cracks, and potholes that they can't simply be resurfaced – they need to be completely rebuilt." Nordman writes that drivers will often change their behavior because of these poor roads: "Our roads have a lot of potholes and patches. You'll see drivers slewing back and forth across the lanes to avoid the rough spots."
Though such driving behavior is less-than-safe, it's an understandable reaction, considering just how much damage potholes can cause. The Washington Post estimates that Hawaiian drivers can expect to pay an additional $595 per year in operation and maintenance costs on their vehicles – which just about swallows up the savings they might see by driving less than the average American.
Unemployment and Driving
As of October 2017, the national unemployment rate has gone down to an impressive 4.1 percent. Employed Hawaiians are doing their part to keep this national average low, as they enjoyed a 2.5 percent unemployment rate as of September 2017 – making them tied with Colorado for second in the nation for lowest unemployment rate. Only North Dakota is seeing lower unemployment than that.
The bad news about low unemployment is that you'll see more cars on the road, since employed workers have to get themselves to and from their workplace. This helps to explain the terrible traffic that Boteilho has to deal with during rush hour on Oahu: "It's horrific for a number of reasons. It's a small island with too many cars, and there isn't much that can be done as far as road expansion is concerned. The two major highways here intersect in the middle of the island and that's where we have our bottleneck traffic issue that lasts from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day."
It's also important to remember that higher employment also indicates a stronger economy, which means people are enjoying more disposable income – and therefore driving more to go out to dinner, shop, go to the beach, or attend sporting events.
Distracted Driving in the Aloha State
Though we all should know better, the ping of our phones can sometimes distract us from something more important, including keeping our eyes on the road. According to the site Distraction.gov, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in distracted driving-related traffic accidents all across America as of 2015. What's so disheartening about these statistics is that these deaths and injuries were 100 percent preventable.
Hawai'i's lawmakers take the issue of distracted driving very seriously, and they have implemented some of the nation's most stringent laws to deal with the problem. All drivers in Hawai'i are prohibited from texting and using hand-held cell phones or other devices. Novice drivers are prohibited from using any cell phone or device while driving, although adult drivers may use hands-free devices legally.
Texting while driving is a primary offense, which means you can be pulled over specifically for doing it. You will pay $250 for violating Hawai'i's texting laws, and the fee goes up to $300 for texting while driving in a school zone.
Hawai'i's prohibition against all cell phone use by teen drivers is a smart policy. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes." Added to the fact that teens are just learning their driving skills, and it's clear that teenagers are among the most dangerous drivers on the road.
While it's a parent's job to teach new drivers how to be safe on the road, a state's graduated licensing program can help to support rookie drivers as they learn the complex skill necessary to become competent behind the wheel. Hawai'i's graduated licensing program requires teens to follow these steps before they receive an unrestricted license:
- Learner's Permit: Teens may apply for this permit as of age 15 and 6 months. They must pass a written test and vision screening. Teens driving on a learner's permit may only drive with a licensed driver age 21 or older supervising from the front seat. Teens may not drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless accompanied by a supervising parent or guardian. Teens must log 50 hours of practice driving, with 10 of those hours occurring at night, to apply for a provisional license.
- Provisional License: Teens who have reached age 16 and have held their learner's permit for at least 6 months may apply for a provisional license. To apply, they must have completed their 50 hours of practice driving, along with a 30-hour classroom course, as well as 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training with an instructor. They must also pass a behind-the-wheel driving test. On the provisional license, teens may drive alone, but they may not drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. without a parent or guardian, and they may not transport more than one passenger under the age of 18 who is not a household member.
- Full License: Upon reaching age 17, if the teen driver has held the provisional license for a minimum of 6 months and has had no violations, he or she is eligible for a full, unrestricted license.
The State of Driving in Hawai'i
The spirit of aloha may make driving more polite in Hawai'i, but it doesn't erase the unique hazards and challenges of getting behind the wheel. Knowing what you might face any time you venture out onto the road can help you to make the best and safest decisions in the Aloha State.