Bill would require 4-wheel drive to enter Waipio, ascend Maunakea

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Tourists check out the view in January 2012 at the Waipio Valley lookout. HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo

Want to drive up Maunakea or down into Waipio Valley?

Then soon you might need to have the right set of wheels.

A bill moving through the state Legislature would require a low-range, four-wheel-drive vehicle to be used when entering these areas, two of Hawaii Island’s most breathtaking and popular sites. All-wheel-drive vehicles would not be authorized.

Rep. Mark Nakashima, who introduced House Bill 1767, said the steep access roads for both locations are not suitable for two-wheel drive cars, which can break down or, worse, lose their brakes.

The situation is becoming more dangerous as they attract more visitors, he said.

Nakashima, D-Hamakua, said he doesn’t expect the bill to be a problem for Waipio residents since they already are properly equipped for the trek.

“Most of the people who live and work in Waipio know the customs and practices,” he said. “They have four-wheel drive.”

The bill, which is up for a floor vote in the House after clearing three committees, is being welcomed by the University of Hawaii and its agencies that oversee Maunakea.

On the mountain, the law would apply to the unpaved road above Hale Pohaku.

“Two-wheel-drive vehicles don’t have the low gearing needed for the driver to keep a safe speed without using excessive brakes,” said Office of Maunakea Management Chief Ranger Scotty Paiva in written testimony. “… We are very lucky for not having more accidents due to brake failure.”

He said two-wheel-drive vehicles also have less traction on the soft cinder and cause hazards for other vehicles.

UH has authority to require the use of four-wheel-drive vehicles under administrative rules, but that process has been delayed several years.

Nakashima said the bill would allow any law enforcement officer to issue a ticket, rather than the matter being sent to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for review. Violators would face a fine of $250.

Emergency vehicles would be exempt.

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