The Best Tips for Driving in the Hawaiian Islands

Full disclosure: I hate to drive. Truly despise it! I would rather take a 24-hour series of flights to the other side of the world than take a 5-hour road trip to the beach in a neighboring state. Literally. I was faced with that choice, and I wanted the flights. 

But you know where I actually look forward to driving? Hawai’i! The stress level here is much lower than anywhere else I’ve lived or traveled, and that translates to the driving. But there are still a few things visitors need to be aware of, no matter how much you do or don’t love to drive. Here are the top tips for driving in the Hawai’ian islands. We’ve driven on them all! 

Be Nice

This is the number one complaint from locals: People moving to Hawai’i or visiting from the Mainland are not nice drivers. It’s sad, really. So, don’t be that! Let people pull out in front of you. Give pedestrians the right of way (not to mention that’s the actual law). And don’t honk unless you’re saying a friendly “Thanks for letting me go in front of you!” Be nice. Show aloha. You’re in Hawai’i!

Be nice!
Essential info: How to Choose Which Hawai’ian Island to Visit

Turn on the Radio for Hawai’ian Music (and News)

You might be surprised at how it really sets the mood! Don’t bother with your own playlist or trying to find “your” music on the radio. Listening to local music on a local radio station is a fun way to feel the island vibe. You’ll also get some useful information about traffic, local holidays, and local businesses! Just scroll the stations until you hear the sound of the islands. 

Feel that island vibe!
Keep reading: Tips for Driving on the Island of Hawai’i

Pull Over to Let Others Pass

Hawaiians are generally not in a hurry, but they do know where they’re going! So, instead of making them form a parade line behind you on the narrow roads, find a pull-over spot and let them pass. They’ll thank you, maybe with a friendly “toot” on their horn and a shaka out the window!

Pull over when you see a line of cars piling up behind you… Especially on the Road to Hana!
Read next: Tips for Driving on Mau’i

Pull Over to Take Photos

While you’re pulling over to let others pass, take the opportunity to enjoy the views, too! Please don’t try to take photos while you’re driving. And while photos from the passenger seat can be good, you might find that the roads are a little bumpy in places! It’s really better to take advantage of the many designated scenic view pull-off areas (some even have a few dedicated parking spaces) and take your photos there. 

I love that there was a place to pull over and snap this pic on Molokai!
One of the most beautiful places to drive: Tips for Driving on Kaua’i

Don’t Honk (Unless You’re on the Road to Hana)

Hawai’ians and locals don’t honk to show displeasure at other drivers. They’re either honking to say mahalo (“thank you”) for letting them out or letting them pass, or they’re honking as they approach a blind corner on the Road to Hana. That’s all! 

Only honk if you’re approaching blind corners!
Get more: What to Know Before Driving the Road to Hana

There is Usually One Road that Goes All the Way Around

Usually, but not always. And with the exception of Kaua’i, you can circumnavigate each of the Hawaiian islands in one day, much like most islands around the world. Most roads will be two-lanes only (one each direction). The exception to that rule is O’ahu, but even there, you’ll find many two-lane roads. A road trip around the island you’re visiting is a fun way to spend a day and “see everything.”

We love our scenic drives in Hawai’i!
Also helpful: Tips for Driving on O’ahu

You Might Want 4-wheel Drive (4WD)

If you’re hoping to explore O’ahu, Kaua’i, or Mau’i, you can get just about anywhere you want to go without 4WD, so don’t worry about it. However, if you want to see the most of the Island of Hawai’i, Molokai, or Lana’i, you’ll be glad to have 4WD! We skipped it on Molokai and wished we’d had a more capable vehicle to access a couple of hiking trails. 

If you’re okay with keeping to the paved roads, however, don’t worry about the extra wheels. There is plenty to do on every island with two-wheel action! Just be aware that if you go off-roading in a car without 4WD, it will void your rental car agreement, and you will be responsible for the car out-right. 

4WD Tips:

Do a little 4WD research if you’re not used to using it. Here are a few things to know:

  • 4WD is not synonymous with manual or stick shift. You can rent an automatic vehicle that also has 4WD!
  • Don’t leave it in 4WD mode. Use it sparingly, only when you need it. Never use 4WD on smoothly paved roads. 
  • Go slow. 4WD is also not synonymous with race mode. 
We were so glad that we paid extra for the 4WD on Lana’i!
Somewhere you definitely want 4WD: The Ultimate Guide to Renting a Car on Lana’i

Slow It Down

I love that the first thing you see on the drive out of the parking lot at the Molokai airport is a gigantic sign that says, “Slow down, you’re on Molokai.” It’s an instant reminder that you’re not in the rat race or the big city anymore! The same goes for every Hawaiian island. Speed limits are lower than on the mainland. It’s not unusual to see 25, 35, and 45 mph speed limits for miles and miles. Even the Interstate highway on O’ahu only goes up to 60mph, though not for very long!

Speed limits are low for a few reasons. Not the least of which is that there are only so many hospitals in the islands with trauma care capabilities, and there is not one on every island. Slower driving means fewer, and less severe, accidents. Obey the slower speed limits, and stay safe! 

Slow down and take in the journey!
More here: Tips for Driving on Molokai

Hands-free Calling Only

As in many states on the Mainland, you’re not allowed to be holding your phone, texting, or otherwise poking around on your phone while driving. Connect your bluetooth to your rental car if you’ll need to be taking or making calls while driving, or, if you’re traveling with someone, simply let your travel buddy handle that instead. 

Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road!
Although, you may not even have service! Tips for Driving on Lana’i

Don’t Leave Valuables In the Car

For the most part, Hawai’ians are amazing, friendly, helpful, honest people who definitely would not steal from anyone off the street! But, like everywhere else, there are exceptions. Be smart, and don’t leave your valuables in your car while you go for a hike or otherwise leave your car unattended.

If you must leave your valuables in the car (no one’s going hiking with their laptop, right?), then put them in the trunk when you start your drive to the trail head or beach. Once there, don’t open the trunk to show anyone watching that you have anything inside. 

Take valuables with you!
Read on: The Ultimate Guide for How to Travel Safely

You Might Not Need a Car Every Day

This is a massive money-saving tip! On most of the Hawai’ian islands, you will want to rent a car, otherwise you won’t be able to see anything except your accommodation, or you’ll be overpaying for tours to pick you up and take you to the things you want to see. It’s definitely worth it to budget for that rental car if you want the flexibility and freedom to move around. 

However, renting a car and paying for parking (which you will definitely need to consider) is not always a financial possibility for your entire trip. Instead, consider staying in Waikiki on O’ahu, where there is plenty to do and see within walking or short Uber-ing distance. Or, only rent a car when you need one. 

There are car rental companies all over the islands, so do a little research. If there’s a car rental location associated with your accommodation, or within walking or Uber distance, plan to only rent a car when you need it, and on non-consecutive days. This way, you’re still able to explore the island as you want, but you won’t pay for overnight parking. Get more tips in my post about How to Save BIG on Your Hawaiian Vacation!

Did you know you can walk from Waikiki to get this view?!
Not renting a car? The 10 Best Things to Do in Waikiki

Want more? Get everything you need to plan your trip to Hawai’i on my dedicated Hawai’ian Islands Page!

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Published by quickwhittravel

Welcome to the blog! We do things a little differently around here: no ads, no negativity, and no checked luggage, y'all. My name is Whitney, and Quick Whit Travel Blog is your one-stop shop for all the best travel tips, packing advice, and destination information. Click around or message me on social media @quickwhittravel for more!

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