Driving on Maui

Road on Maui

 Juergen Wallstabe / EyeEm / Getty Images

Driving on Maui can be intimidating at first, especially for visitors used to a faster pace at home. Generally, speeds don’t exceed 55 miles per hour on Maui ,and most of the roads vary between 25 mph and 45 mph. While the big city of Honolulu on nearby Oahu has become congested by heavier traffic in recent years, there aren’t any big cities on Maui—the biggest are Kahului (population: 26,337) or Lahaina (population: 11,704). For this reason, don’t expect to see multi-lane freeways or carpool lanes; most of this island’s roads are country roads.

Maui is actually pretty easy to navigate, but that doesn’t mean accidents don’t happen. Most of the time, crashes occur when drivers who are unfamiliar with the area aren’t paying attention to the roads but rather the gorgeous scenery and beaches around them.

The most important tip? Drive with aloha. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings and show respect for your fellow drivers. 

Rules of the Road

Be sure to always drive without distractions, and don’t make any assumptions about other drivers on Maui. Drivers usually take their time while navigating the island’s towns, letting in other cars whenever possible and refraining from honking their horns unless of emergency. Checking for road closures around the island before setting out for an adventure is always a good idea as well. 

  • Open Containers: If you’re found driving with an open container anywhere in the vehicle, you could face a fine of $2,000 with possible DUI charges.
  • Gas Stations: In larger towns such as Lahaina and Kahului, you won’t have too much trouble finding a gas station. In the upcountry areas on the east side of the island and central Maui, however, gas stations may be few and far between. Always make sure you have a full tank of gas before embarking on any type of road trip on the island.
  • One-Lane Bridges: Another aspect of driving on Maui that visitors may be unfamiliar with is one-lane bridges. There are many of these bridges on the island, especially along the Hana Highway where the road can get narrower. Traditionally, five or six cars will go at a time to keep traffic flowing, unless a sign says otherwise. Take your time, and drive carefully and slowly to avoid any complications.
  • Flooding: Especially when driving the Road to Hana, flooding can be a serious concern while driving on Maui. Remember to always check the weather reports before heading out and adhere to the “turn around, don’t drown” mentality. 
  • In Case of Emergency: Getting insurance with your car rental on Maui is a no-brainer, and you can even ask the rental company if they will accept your insurance from back home to save some money. According to state laws, a driver must report an accident as quickly (and safely) as possible to the authorities if they’re involved in one. Keep in mind that Hawaii is a “no-fault” car insurance state, meaning that typically the car insurance pays for injuries and damage up to a certain amount, regardless of fault.
  • Cell Phones: On Maui (and the rest of the state), it is illegal to use any handheld mobile device while operating a vehicle. That means no texting, talking, or using the phone in any way. Drivers over the age of 18 are allowed to use hands-free devices, however. These laws don’t apply to drivers who are using their phones to call 9-1-1, emergency responders using their cellphone for jobs, or drivers who are at a complete stop within a safe location off of the road with the engine turned off. 
  • Littering: Littering from your vehicle on Maui is a huge no-no, not to mention completely illegal. The land on the island is incredibly important to Maui’s residents, so throwing your garbage out the window—or anywhere besides a trash can, for that matter—is extremely disrespectful. Littering on Maui can incur fines between $500 and $1,000.

Weather Conditions

Check the weather report before taking a Maui road trip. The weather forecast will greatly depend on whether you’ll be able to complete the Road to Hana, as driving in the rain on that side can be very dangerous. Mudslides aren’t uncommon on the north and east sides of the island and can affect drivers by creating slow traffic or dangerous situations, so be aware of that if it's been rainy for a few consecutive days.

Car Rentals

When renting a car, be sure to observe any restrictions about where you’re able to drive. Due to Maui’s rugged and multi-climate terrain, most car rental companies have policies where drivers can take their cars (such as Oheo Gulch or the backside to Haleakala). Many will also tell you that you’ll need four-wheel drive to navigate the famous Road to Hana, but that depends on which stops you’re planning to make. Noteworthy spots on Maui where four-wheel drive may be prudent include parks of Haleakala National Park and Polipoli State Park, where it is required if you want to camp.

You may not need to rent a car for the whole time, but consider renting for a day or two to see the sights, and then spend the rest of the time near your hotel. Lahaina has both an Enterprise and Hertz for rental cars, and Kihei has Avis, Enterprise, and a few local companies. Hotels and resorts often hike up their parking prices significantly due to the limited parking available in town.

Parking

Parking availability on Maui definitely has some room for improvement. Obviously, the easiest overnight choice is to park at a hotel or resort for a fee and avoid the chances of getting a parking ticket. In 2016, Maui Country began to require resorts to have a certain number of free spots available to drivers, but there are usually time restrictions. In the busier areas, free beach parking becomes non-existent as the day wears on, so parking in a garage, shopping complex, or resort is the only option. Make sure to check if any stores validate, as it may end up saving a little money. In the country areas where tourists are less prevalent, parking becomes a bit easier, but the need to pay attention to any parking signs or restrictions still applies.   

Road Safety

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents on Maui. Attempting to watch the road while also watching rainbows form, whales breach, and waterfalls flow can get dangerous very quickly. Make sure to always pay attention to road signs, stop slights, and pedestrian crossings.

Everyone on the island is aware of Maui’s beauty, but keep in mind that locals are often trying to get to their jobs or appointments or back home to their families, so pull over (if it’s safe) and let them pass if you’re sightseeing. Getting into a car accident is a sure way to ruin your vacation. If there is a car around you speeding and whipping around corners, chances are they’ve been driving on Maui for a long time and know the roads extremely well, so don’t try to mimic them. Worried about missing out on the action by staying behind the driver’s seat? Book a tour! Roberts Hawaii and Enoa both offer circle island tours that take visitors to all of Maui’s most popular attractions such as Haleakala National Park, the Road to Hana, Iao Valley, and Kealia Wildlife Refuge. 

Maui is the largest Hawaiian island with wild deer, so be extra careful when driving in country areas in the dark. Along the same lines, there is also a large number of cattle ranches, especially around Haleakala National Park and central Maui.

Traffic

Rush hour tends to centralize around 4 p.m. and can be the most notorious on the single-lane roads surrounding Lahaina on the west side and Paia on the north side. You’ll often hear locals giving directions by time rather than miles, as the traffic on the islands moves much slower than the mileage may suggest.

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