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Your Guide to Driving in Hawaiʻi

Your Guide to Driving in Hawaiʻi

Published on - 2023-04-11

Hawai’i has some of the most scenic routes in the world. With stunning coastlines and lush greenery stretching on all sides, it’s no wonder why it’s such a popular spot for a laidback drive. But as with any other place, it’s important to know what to expect and be aware of the local regulations before you hit the road.

In this blog, we’ve covered everything you need to know about driving in Hawai’i, including the best local tips and Hawai’i’s driving rules so you can safely enjoy all the panoramic views.


What to Expect When Driving in Hawai’i


1. People Drive Slow…or Really Fast

If you’re used to zipping along I-90 or I-75 in the continental US, get ready to slow down. The highest speed limit in Hawai’i is 60 mph, and it’s slower on rural roads and in residential areas. People also like to take their time on Interstate H-3. That said, it’s not uncommon to see drivers get frustrated or impatient as they slam on the gas to zoom past you. It’s best to just stay calm and alert.


2. No Honking Unless It’s An Emergency

Honolulu may be called The Big Pineapple, but this is not New York City. Unnecessarily honking while driving in Hawai’i is a social taboo. It’s seen as an aggressive gesture and considered rude. Don’t honk unless you want some locals to holler at you.


3. It Takes Only a Couple of Hours to Drive Across the Islands

Except for the Big Island, aptly named for its enormous size, driving across any Hawaiian island should take you only about 2 hours. This assumes that you’re following Hawai’i driving rules and not driving during rush hour when the roads become congested with other visitors. The islands are small but full of breathtaking sights. So make sure to take plenty of pit stops and visit all the attractions on the Big Island and Oahu.


4. Driving on Oahu Is Different Than Other Islands

Being the epicenter of Hawai’i, driving in Oahu is a little wilder. It’s not uncommon to see people going above 60 mph in some places while 20 mph in others. The traffic moves especially slowly near the top Oahu tourist destinations during the afternoons. If you’re going anywhere, go in the morning.

Some roads on Oahu were converted from horse trails and, given the unique topography of the island, there are lots of unusual intersections like the 5-way stop in Manoa that can be confusing to navigate. Keep your eyes peeled for the signs.


5. You Might Come Across a Pothole or Two (or Ten)

When you’re driving in Hawai’i, watch out for potholes because our state is notorious for them. Keep your eyes on the road, especially after rainy weather. It’s best to avoid a pothole if you can, but if there’s no way around it, be sure to drive slowly and go squarely over the hole. Swerving or taking it from the side is more likely to cause damage to your tires.


6. People Are Generally Polite When You Need to Merge Lanes

Though you might come across some people rudely cutting across lanes or merging in an unsafe manner, it’s not a common occurrence. As long as you give the turn signal and enough time for the other to adjust, you’ll be alright. Don’t forget to give the shaka sign or wave as a thank you when someone lets you pass. It’s an unspoken rule of driving in Hawai’i!


General Hawai’i Driving Rules

  1. Right of way – Pedestrians and funeral processions have a right of way in Hawai’i.


  1. Seatbelts – The driver and all passengers need to be secured with a seatbelt. If you’re traveling with kids, they must also be secured with appropriate seats.


  1. Speed limits – Hawai’i has strict speed limits because of its unique topography. Freeways have a limit of 60 mph whereas residential areas have a limit of 25 mph. A rural highway is 50 mph.


  1. DUI – You can, at any time, be asked to take a blood, urine, or breath test while you’re driving in Hawai’i. The legal blood alcohol content limit in Hawai’i is 0.08%. Breaking this can result in fines, suspension of license, or even jail time.


  1. Driving slow – If you’re driving slow, you’re required to drive on the right lane or as far right as possible for others to pass.


  1. Mobile phone – Using a phone hand-free is allowed but only for adults over the age of 18.


  1. Headlights – When driving in poor weather conditions or in low light, you’re required to turn on your headlights.


  1. Turning/Stopping – 100 feet before you make a turn or stop, make a signal.


  1. Parking – You need to leave 12 inches at most from the curb while parking. Don’t park on sidewalks, block driveways, or double park. We’ll also add that a broken parking meter is considered a no-parking zone. Parking in front of one could result in a $50 ticket.


Tips for Driving in Hawai’i

Aerial view of cars driving on scenic route in Hawai'i


  • Drive slow, but not too slow! Always stick to the speed limit and other Hawai’i driving rules.
  • Don’t stop in the middle of the freeway to take pictures. You might see another tourist do it, but that doesn’t mean you should. It’s not allowed, and it’s dangerous.
  • Read all the signs as you’re driving in Oahu because there are many lanes along the freeway that are exit-only.
  • Plan your route in advance. See the map and be aware of ongoing road work as well as peak hours to avoid the crowds. Before 6 am and late evening are always the best times to be driving in Hawai’i if you want to enjoy the natural beauty.
  • Don’t blindly rely on your GPS. We guarantee that your GPS will mispronounce Hawaiian words. What you hear might not be the same as what you read on the signs. Ask the locals if you’re confused. We’re always happy to help!
  • Drive prudently and be courteous toward the other drivers. Embrace the spirit of Aloha and don’t rush!


Book Your Hawai’i Rental Car

Now that you’re equipped with all the knowledge to take on the roads of Hawai’i, kick off your trip by booking your rental car with GoVibe. We’re a local company based on Oahu and the Big Island, so we know all the ins and outs of driving in Hawai’i.

Our range of vehicles is specifically made to take on the rugged terrain of Hawai’i. If you have any questions about our VIP rental service or need more information on Hawai’i’s driving rules, feel free to give us a call at 808-292-5188 or contact us online. Happy driving!

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