Driving in Hawaii: Rules of the road and driving tips

Driving in Hawaii: Rules of the road and driving tips

Whether you’re visiting Hawaii as a guest or moving there permanently, there are things you need to know if you plan on getting around the islands in a car. Ask any of the locals, and they’ll readily admit driving in Hawaii is a very different experience than anywhere else in the world. It pays for you to be prepared if you want to avoid any kind of trouble.

Various driving authorities enforce a myriad of regulations and road rules in Hawaii. But we thought we’d help out our readers by sharing the most important ones. 

Licensing requirements

The minimum (fully licensed) driving age in Hawaii is 17 years old. Hawaii has adopted a three-stage graduated licensing program for drivers under the age of 18. To qualify for the initial Instructional Permit phase, an applicant must be at least 15 years and six months old. The following is required when applying for an Instructional Permit:

  • A completed driver license application
  • Identifying documents
  • Pass an eye screening
  • Pass a 30 question written exam

Once a driver has been awarded a permit, they face the following restrictions:

  • When driving, they must be in immediate possession of the Instructional Permit.
  • They must be seated next to a licensed driver who is at least 21 years of age.
  • When driving between 11 PM and 5 AM, they must be supervised by a parent or guardian, sitting beside the minor driver.
  • All occupants of the vehicle must wear their seatbelts.

An Instructional Permit is valid for twelve months. When an Instructional Permit has been held for at least 180 days without incident, you will be granted a Provisional License. You will be required to complete a state-certified driver’s education course and possess the classroom and behind-the-wheel certificates. Applicants also have to pass a road examination test. The following driving restrictions apply to Provisional License holders:

  • You cannot transport more than one person under 18 unless accompanied by a licensed parent or legal guardian.
  • Generally, license holders cannot drive between 11 PM and 5 AM unless accompanied by a licensed parent or guardian in the front passenger seat. 

A Provisional License holder that has turned 17 and held their license for at least six months without any violations is eligible for a Full Driver’s License. 

What is the penalty for driving without a license in Hawaii?

Driving without a license in Hawaii is considered a crime. You could face 30-days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Reasons you could be charged include:

  • Never obtained a license
  • In possession of an expired license
  • A Hawaii resident without a Hawaii driver’s license
  • Ineligible for a Hawaii driver’s license

If you have two or more prior convictions for the same offense in the preceding five-year period, the fine is between $500 - $100. Jail time is up to one year or both. 

Minors under 18 caught driving without a license may either be subject to a fine of $500 or lose the right to drive until they turn 18. 

If you are found driving a commercial vehicle without a license, you could face a fine as high as $5,000.

In addition to paying a fine and jail time, you can also expect your car insurance rates to increase considerably. Insurers view driving without a license as high-risk behavior. If your license is suspended for a long time, your insurer may cancel your coverage. Gaps in coverage result in even higher insurance rates when you apply for coverage again.

Driving in Hawaii with a foreign license

Being able to drive a car in Hawaii using an International Driver’s License (without an additional International Driver’s Permit) depends on the type of foreign driver’s license you have. 

Foreign visitors to Hawaii can drive a car with an International Driver’s License as long as it’s valid in the home country and is written in English. Learner or provisional permits are not accepted. 

International Driver’s Permit (IDP)

An International Driver’s Permit is a translation of an individual’s foreign license and usually is easy and inexpensive to obtain in the driver’s home country. 

If your International Driver’s License is in a language other than English, but the Roman alphabet is used, it is highly recommended you apply for an additional International Driver’s Permit.

If your International Driver’s License is in a language other than English and a different alphabet is used, for example, Arabic or Japanese, an additional International Driver’s Permit is required. 

Penalties for driving without insurance

The State of Hawaii has two auto insurance laws. There is a long list of harsh penalties for anyone who violates them. Sanctions include:

  • Fines of up to $5,000
  • Community service of up to 275 hours
  • License suspension of up to 2 years
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • Jail time of up to 30 days

For a first offense, you can expect severe sanctions. First, you will be fined no less than $500. Your license will also be suspended for three months. Instead of paying the fine, you may be able to perform community service for 75 to 100 hours. 

If repeated within five years of the previous conviction, penalties become more severe for the second or more offense. Fines range from $1,500 to $5,000. Community service is still an alternative, but you’ll need to put in 200 to 275 hours. The license suspension period increases to one full year.  

Hawaii’s Compulsory Liability Insurance Law required that you carry liability coverage with minimum limits of 20/40/10, whenever you’re driving on the highway. You will need to produce proper proof of insurance when requested. Requests could be made at a traffic stop or during a vehicle safety inspection. 

Driving laws for seniors and older drivers

Hawaii car transport

The state of Hawaii imposes some special requirements and restrictions on older drivers. 

  • Drivers age 72 and older have to renew their licenses every two years.
  • Driving authorities are permitted to restrict licenses in the interest of keeping drivers and roadways safe.

License renewal rules for older drivers

Drivers who wish to renew their licenses must complete a Driver’s License Application. Special rules apply to drivers who are 72 and older.

  • Time limits: Drivers age 72 and older must renew every two years. Drivers 21 to 71 must renew every six years. Those under 21 can be issued a license that is valid for four years. 
  • Vision test: Required on renewal.
  • Written test: May be required at the discretion of the licensing authorities.
  • Road test: May be required at the discretion of the licensing authorities. 

Possible license restrictions

Driving authorities are allowed to place restrictions or conditions on a person’s driver’s license. The purpose of these restrictions is to keep both the driver and the roadways safe. Common restrictions or older drivers include the wearing of glasses or corrective contact lenses. Other restrictions include:

  • Driving only vehicles with automatic transmissions
  • Vehicles have to be equipped with outside mirrors
  • Driving only vehicles with power steering
  • No nighttime driving
  • Wearing hearing aids while driving
  • Wearing prosthetic aids while driving 

Basic rules

  • Hawaii’s speed limits and traffic rules are strictly enforced. 
  • Signs are posted and easily visible across the islands.
  • Seat belts have to be worn at all times in private vehicles.
  • You must signal 100 feet before making a turn or stopping.
  • A right turn on a red light after stopping is permitted unless indicated otherwise.
  • Pedestrians have the right of way at any intersection.
  • Hawaii law requires all drivers to use a hands-free device when talking on a cell phone while driving.
  • GPS or mapping services are permitted.
  • All children have to wear seat belts, with those weighing less than 50 pounds secured in a child safety or booster seat.
  • There are many long single-lane routes across Hawaii. Drivers going too far below the minimum speed limit are required to pull over and let the traffic pass.
  • By driving a vehicle in Hawaii, you have legally consented to blood, urine, or breath tests for alcohol. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08%.

For a full breakdown of the rules and regulations, there is an official Hawaii driver’s manual. In Hawaii, driving laws are enforced by the: 

Visit the websites to find more detailed information. 

Speed limits in Hawaii

The basic speed limit rule for the islands is that you have to drive reasonably and prudently, depending on traffic and weather conditions. Hawaii has the lowest maximum speed limit of any state in the US. This could be due to its rugged geography and narrow roads. 

School zones 25 mph
Within city limits 25-45 mph
Highways 45-55 mph
Interstate highways 60 mph


Parking and turning

Parking space is at a premium, particularly in Honolulu, and especially during the day. In the capital city, metered parking is available. However, your best bet is to find a paid parking garage. In smaller towns and near attractions, parking is not such a problem. 

It is illegal to park on the sidewalk or in any way that blocks a driveway or any kind. You should not leave more than 12 inches between your vehicle and the curb. Double parking is not permitted.  

If you’re parked in violation of posted regulations, you’ll be given a ticket, and your car towed almost immediately. 

In some jurisdictions, you are not allowed to make U-turns. In general, however, it is legal to do so. Make sure you have good visibility in both directions and don’t obstruct any traffic. At traffic signals, you typically have to follow the arrow when turning.  


Rush-hour traffic in Honolulu is between 6 AM to 8.30 AM and 3.30 PM to 6 PM. During these times, traffic is a nightmare, particularly along the H1 Freeway and Nimitz Highway. Honolulu also has many one-way streets. You must pay close attention to all posted signs.

Don’t stress about getting lost or missing a sign because there will always be a friendly local nearby to provide direction. 

In Honolulu and across the islands, there’s no need to use your horn. Save it for emergencies, and you’ll get far fewer frowns from other drivers. 

Driving on Maui

Driving in Maui

The pace of traffic on the roads in Maui can take visitors by surprise. The maximum speed limit is 55 mph. However, the majority of roads have much slower speed limits of between 25 and 45 mph. There are no freeways, numbered exits, carpool lanes, or interstates. You’ll find yourself moving around on single-lane roads with crosswalks and stop signs. 

  • Traffic on Maui

There are times when traffic slows to a crawl on Maui. The worst sections of the highway are the road to Lahaina and the road leading into Pa’ia. Both these roads are single lane, and at 4 PM, they can be gridlocked. The best time to drive, if you want to avoid the traffic is in the morning. 

  • Stop if you want to take in the view

Maui is a beautiful island, and there are many wondrous views to take your attention away from the road. If you want to appreciate the scenery, look at the whales, enjoy the sunsets, or experience waterfalls, it’s best if you slow down and pull off the road. 

  • Look out for animals

Always keep your eye out for cattle, particularly when driving to Haleakala for the sunrise or around the backside of Hana. Axis deer are also very abundant on the island. Stay alert around sunrise and sunset in Kula, Wailea, and Makena.

Driving on Oahu

Traffic on the island of Oahu is some of the worst in the country. However, if you avoid rush hours and know the appropriate driving etiquette, your drive will be more enjoyable. Always plan extra time for heavy traffic at any time of the day. In Oahu, it could take you 45 minutes or more to travel 10 miles.

Carpool lanes on the island require two or more people. Oahu also utilizes zipper lanes on the H-1 Freeway and Nimitz Highway Express Lane. This is to help ease Honolulu-bound traffic during peak rush hours.

Watch out for weather advisories and remember that the roads can be slick during the first few minutes of rainfall. The tropical climate in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can be temperamental and catch you unawares if you’re not careful. Potholes are a big problem when the weather is poor. This is another good reason to keep your speed low. 

Oahu is the third-largest island and is just over 40 miles long. You can’t drive entirely around the island as the road stops at Kaena Point’s westernmost tip. However, you can drive in a loop along the eastern shore and back down through the middle of the island. This is a popular route for visitors who want to tour the island.    

Driving on Kauai

Driving around Kauai is easy. It also provides many opportunities to enjoy stunning views of white-sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, and lush tropical valleys and forests. In a single day, you can enjoy a bright sunny day on the beach on the South Shore and smell the sweet floral fragrances after a rainstorm on the North Shore. 

The is a single main highway around three-quarters of the island’s circumference. On the eastern shore, HI-56 takes your from Hanalei in the north to Lihue in the south. HI-50 runs east from Lihue to Waimea on the south coast. 

The northwestern shore of the island is not accessible by vehicle. This quarter of the island’s coastline is made up of the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast.

It takes about 40 minutes to drive from Waipouli Beach Resort and Spa to Priceville and Hanalei on the north shore. It takes about the same time to drive to Poipu in the south. The drive from resorts on the eastern coast to the Lihue airport is around 20 minutes. It can, however, take longer during rush hour. 

The longest drive on the island's main roads is from Princeville to Waimea. It takes you to the Grand Canyon of Kauai.   

Driving on Big Island 

  • Drive with Aloha: Always be a courteous driver and drive with Aloha. You’ll be sharing the roads with cyclists and the unexpected goat or wild pig. So, always stay alert. 
  • Driving at night: The sun sets early in Hawaii, so bear this in mind if you don’t care for driving in the dark. In July, sunset is around 7 PM, while it’s an hour earlier in December. 
  • Weather: You can expect the occasional downpour, flash floods, and fog. Pay attention to highway warning signs as they could save your life.
  • Speed limits: Hawaii has an ‘excessive speeding’ statute you have to be aware of. There are some pretty hefty penalties. Fines run between $500 and $1,000.   

Driving in Hawaii tips: 15 Things you need to know

    1. Oahu’s roads are the busiest: The roads on this island are in the best condition. They also benefit from being well signposted. The island has the most developed roads in Hawaii and several motorways. These roads are, however, the busiest. 
    2. Journey’s tend to be short: Car journeys will be short wherever you’re heading. The largest island, The Big Island, only takes about two and a half hours to take the coastal route from north to south. 
    3. Don’t speed: Hawaii has the lowest maximum speed limit in the USA. The fastest you’ll be driving is 60 mph on the interstate highway. 
    4. Expect lots of traffic: Be prepared to queue wherever you’re heading for and always leave a little extra time for your journey. 
    5. Don’t honk your horn: Things are very laid-back in Hawaii, even when Hawaiians are behind the wheel. There’s no such thing as road rage. Honking horns is considered incredibly rude. Sit back, relax, and enjoy every journey you make and the view from your window. 
    6. Drive on the right: In Hawaii, they drive on the right-hand side of the road, not the left. 
    7. You can’t take your car between islands: There are no car ferries and very few passenger ferries in Hawaii. The main way to travel between islands is by plane. 
    8. Don’t make U-turns: It’s easy to become distracted by the scenery and feel the need to stop suddenly for a photo opportunity. The roads on the islands may be quaint, but there are still dangers. 
    9. Rain makes for limited visibility: It also makes for slippery roads. If it’s raining, reduce your speed and remember roads can be slick when it first starts to rain. 
    10. Watch for Hawaii weather, flood advisories, and potholes: NOAA weather is a good place to start for forecasts and advisories. All you have to do is enter the city or zip code. Driving during flooding in Hawaii is not something you want to experience. Potholes can be very serious and cause damage to your car. 
    11. Avoid rush-hour traffic: In Honolulu and neighboring islands, rush hour is between 6 AM to 8 AM and 3.30 PM to 6 PM. It’s always better to wait unless you desperately need to be somewhere. 
    12. Plan your route in advance: It can take longer to drive between points on island roads, so always plan your route well in advance. 
    13. It’s dangerous to cross the highway: Only cross a highway on a crosswalk. When driving, be watchful of pedestrians; Look ahead one city block, or a quarter-mile on rural roads, for potential problems. 
    14. Road shoulders in Hawaii are often soft: They can also be deep. Sometimes they’re non-existent, and you should avoid them whenever possible. This is even more important when the weather is inclement. 
    15. Learn the meaning of makai and mauka: Ask a local for directions, and you need to remember these terms. Makai means towards the ocean. Mauka means towards the mountain. Locals will often use landmarks and mileposts to give directions between points rather than street names or highway numbers.  

Now you’ve got all the important driving information, you might be wondering what to do about getting a car to the islands. Should you take your own, or would it be better to buy or rent? 

Hawaii car shipping vs. renting or buying a car

Reliable car shipping

You can ship a car to Hawaii from various ports on the mainland. They include Long Beach, Oakland, and San Diego in California. Tacoma and Seattle are ports in Washington. Once your vehicle has left the mainland, you can collect it from one of the following ports:

  • Oahu, Honolulu
  • Honolulu, Big Island of Hawaii
  • Maui, Kahului
  • Kauai, Nawiliwili

If you want to ship a car to Hawaii, we offer a door to port service here at SGT Auto Transport. We pick your vehicle up from a location of your choosing and deliver it to a port on a Hawaii island of your choosing. 

The benefits of Hawaii car shipping include:

  • It’s always the cheaper option
  • There’s no stress involved
  • It saves time and effort
  • You can ship multiple vehicles at the same time
  • Choose enclosed auto transport, and you get extra protection for valuable vehicles

A significant disadvantage of buying a car in Hawaii is the cost. A new car might come with more bells and whistles than the car you’ve already got. But is it worth the extra expense? Ship your vehicle to Hawaii, and you’ll save money. You won’t have to pay out for a brand-new or a second-hand car. All you have to do is get a new license plate for your old vehicle, and you’re ready to hit the road. 

Renting a car is a viable option, but only if you’re not planning on staying in Hawaii for long. If you plan to stay for more than a few weeks, the cost of car rental could break the bank. Shipping a car to Hawaii is the best option if you’re staying for any length of time. Knowing the car, you’re driving also brings you a certain peace of mind. 

If you want to know more about Hawaii car shipping, don’t hesitate to contact our shipping advisors. Speak to them directly on (864) 546-5038, or use our Live Chat option.  

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