With its stunning vistas, Maui serves as a vacation paradise for millions of visitors each year. But the trip of a lifetime can turn tragic for those who fall prey to Maui’s extremely dangerous roads.
Among the scariest roads in the world is the Kahekili Highway, dubbed the “death highway of Maui,” which snakes along West Maui’s northern coast. The road is so dangerous that a number of rental car companies refuse to cover drivers who choose to travel on the highway.
The road’s narrow passage allows two-way traffic but includes threats like falling rocks, inadequate visibility, and poor lighting. Why would motorists risk a drive on a road like the Kahekili? Despite the danger, plenty of tourists take their chances to get a look at the beautiful views and attractions like the Sculpture Garden and Turnbull Studios.
Meanwhile, the Hana Highway offers its own brand of risk. The highway is paved and is not extremely narrow in most spots — other than on one-way bridges — but its twists and turns present problems for some drivers.
Beauty — and Hazards
Hana Highway, also known as the Road to Hana, runs for more than 64 miles along state Highways 360 and 36, connecting Hana in east Maui with Kahului. Driving the stretch takes more than two and a half hours, even with no stops, because of the narrow, winding road and nearly 60 bridges — with 46 that are one lane only. The road passes through thick, tropical rainforest and includes more than 600 curves.
But many drivers say Hana Highway is a piece of cake compared to the notorious Kahekili Highway. The road includes extremely narrow passages, twisty turns and dangerous conditions. It’s 20 miles of one lane only and is surrounded by rock on one side and steep cliff drop-offs on the other.
Drivers also note that the Piilani Highway, the southern portion of the Hana, is less well-known but just as dangerous as the Kahekili. But while a number of Maui’s scenic highways can be treacherous, it’s the Kahekili that drivers most fear and that’s been the site of many serious accidents.
Ignored Warnings Result in Tragedies
Despite numerous warnings online from motorists and public officials about the Kahekili Highway, some tourists choose to brave the road. Websites and guide books continue to promote the gorgeous landscapes along the route, including Pohaku Kani, the site of a natural pool where several tourists have died in recent years after being swept by waves into the sea.
And just as tragically, cars have gone over the cliffs along the highway, resulting in serious injuries and deaths. Locals say the highway needs more guard rails, reflectors, and caution signs. Unfortunately, the twisting road built on a mountainside has little room available for significant safety upgrades.
The Kahekili Highway and other treacherous Maui roadways often leave inadequate space for two cars. Drivers who see a car coming from the opposite direction in the distance often try to find a wider spot to pull off and allow the other car to pass.
A History of Deadly Accidents
Earlier this year, a man died when his vehicle failed to negotiate a turn and went over an embankment on the Kahekili Highway, landing at the bottom of a 200-feet-deep ravine. The driver was ejected from his vehicle and was fatally injured, police reported. Meanwhile, a passenger in the front seat was injured but climbed back to the road.
Many other accidents on the roadway have caused serious injuries and deaths among tourists and locals alike.
In 2015, for example, a 25-year-old motorcyclist who lived in the area died on the Kahekili when he failed to make a curve in the twisting road. He crossed the center line and crashed into a guardrail.
In 2006, an Illinois man driving a rental car also missed a curve. The convertible dropped some 300 feet, crashing to the rocks below. In 2001, a similar wreck killed a 35-year-old man and a 3-year-old child.
Legal Implications of Accidents on Maui Roads
In 2007, another fatal accident occurred on the Kahekili Highway. A tourist on his honeymoon died when his rented convertible plunged into the ocean after dropping 140 feet.
The victim was traveling on a roadway that officials often warn tourists to avoid due to hazards like falling rocks and sharp drops that lack guardrails. Rental-car companies, too, warn their customers that contracts do not travel on some of Maui’s dangerous roads.
Despite the warnings, do injured individuals — or loved ones of those killed — have any legal recourse?
As with most personal injury cases, it depends on the details. The fact that a road can be dangerous does not necessarily preclude a personal injury judgment.
But cases involving these treacherous roads can be complex; requiring clarification of factors like what government body — the county or the state — has responsibility for the specific section of road in question. And on narrow, twisty, dangerous roads, determining right of way and driver responsibility also can pose challenges.
If you’ve been injured — or had a loved one injured or killed — on one of Maui’s dangerous roadways, it’s critical that you work with experienced car accident attorneys. For a consultation, contact Davis Levin Livingston.