Hawaii Distracted Driving

(It's more than just not texting.)

Written by Meg Stefanac
Written by Meg Stefanac

Financial blogger and business owner, Meg Stefanac, has more than 15 years experience working in the financial services industry and enjoys helping individuals make solid financial decisions. Meg has extensive experience writing about insurance and finances and is a key contributor to TrustedChoice.com.

Man distracted driving convertible in Hawaii

There are nearly 10,000 car accidents every year in Hawaii. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

When it comes to distracted driving, the state of Hawaii defines a distraction as “anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road (visual distraction), mind off the road (cognitive distraction), or hands off the wheel (manual distraction).”

Most cases of distracted driving, though hazardous, are legal. In Hawaii, lawmakers are primarily focused on reducing the number of distracted driving accidents caused by the use of cell phones and other mobile electronic devices.


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Distracted Driving Statistics

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Hawaii:

  • Nationally, distracted driving costs society about $40 billion a year; this is almost as much as DUIs, which cost about $44 billion a year.
  • Nearly 400,000 people in the US were injured and more than 3,000 were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2017.
  • Distracted driving is responsible for approximately 8.5% of all fatal car crashes in the US.
  • Hawaiian police officers issued about 14,500 distracted driving citations statewide in 2018.

Does Hawaii Have Laws against Distracted Driving?


Hawaii laws currently prohibit:

  • The use of handheld cell phones (Hands-free operation is allowed)
  • Texting while driving
  • Drivers under the age of 18 from using a mobile electronic communication device of any kind, even if hands-free.

In addition to these laws, in Honolulu, pedestrians are also required to follow the law when it comes to distractions. In this city, it's illegal to cross a street while looking at a cell phone screen.

Hawaii compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona.

Are There Any Exceptions to Hawaii's Distracted Driving Laws?


In Hawaii, drivers under the age of 18 are only allowed to use a cell phone while driving to call 911. Likewise, the use of a handheld device by any driver is permitted when calling for emergency services.

Also, the following are exempt from the state’s distracted driving laws:

  • Emergency responders (firefighters, emergency medical technicians, mobile intensive care technicians, civil defense workers, police officers, and federal and state law enforcement officers) who are using a mobile device on the job
  • Drivers using a two-way radio or private land mobile radio system, within the meaning of Title 47 Part 90 of the Code of Federal Regulations, while in the performance and scope of their work-related duties, who are operating fleet vehicles or who have a commercial vehicle license
  • Drivers who have a valid amateur radio operator license issued by the Federal Communications Commission and are using a half-duplex two-way radio

Hawaii Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance

            Yes             No
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                                                 X
Is handheld device use permitted?                                 X
Any special restriction for young drivers?                X                 
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                X                

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Hawaii?

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

Distracted driving comes in many forms. From texting and watching videos to less obvious distractions like searching for sunglasses or adjusting the A/C, anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving presents a hazard. But have you ever thought about eating while driving? Is it okay to have lunch on the go?

In most cases, yes. if a police officer in Hawaii spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway, you shouldn't be too worried, since there is no law that says you can't eat while driving.

But eating a cheeseburger could cause you to drive erratically or lose focus and commit a moving violation, like running a stop sign — and you could be pulled over for that. And if that happens, you may get written up for careless driving AND for the moving violation you committed.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Big Mac indoors or while sitting in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Hawaii uses primary enforcement.

This means that even if you're obeying all traffic laws and believe that you're in total control of your vehicle while doing so, if a police officer sees you using your device while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.

What's the Fine for Distracted Driving in Hawaii?

Hawaii isn’t joking around when it comes to distracted driving. Fines for violating the laws in this state are pretty steep:

  • For using a handheld device or texting while driving: $250 fine
  • For using a handheld device or texting in a school or construction zone: $300 fine

These fines are also subject to added court costs and fees.

Let’s look at how Hawaii’s fines compare to some states on the mainland

As you can see, compared to many other states, Hawaii’s fine for distracted driving is pretty high. But the costs don’t stop here. They can keep adding up, which brings us to our next topic: insurance.

Does a Distracted Driving Citation in Hawaii Increase Insurance Rates?


Distracted driving in Hawaii is considered a traffic infraction and does get reported to insurance companies.

While the average insurance rate increases 19.7% following a distracted driving citation in the US, rates in Hawaii don't typically rise very steeply. 

In this state, you can expect your insurance costs to go up a little less than 10%, on average. Your actual rate increase will depend on which insurance company you use and your overall driving history.

So you really have to ask yourself if answering the phone or that text is really worth it. Probably not. If you need to communicate with someone immediately, pull over and park your car first.

What If I'm Driving on the Mainland?

You may be wondering about how the law affects you if you travel to the mainland and rent a car.

Every state has its own laws when it comes to distracted driving, and you're required to stay within the boundaries of the law wherever you're traveling. 

Currently, most states have made texting while driving illegal and many have outlawed use of handheld cell phones. To date, no state has banned talking on hands-free cell phones.

You can look up the laws of each state you will be traveling through, or you can simply avoid texting and using and a handheld device in order to be sure you are acting within the confines of the law.

What's Hawaii Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

April is National Distracted Driving Month. During this month the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) teams up with county police departments and private partners to educate motorists about the dangers of distracted driving. 

Police officers also carry out high-visibility enforcement of texting and cell phone laws during this month.

On top of these efforts, lawmakers hope the high cost of a distracted driving ticket in this state will serve to reduce and limit the number of distracted driving accidents.


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So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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