The following email written by Executive Assistant Bobby Command was shared as a response to a letter written by tour driver Robert Isaac regarding a ban on rental cars driving on the summit of Mauna Kea. Isaac’s email was prompted by a recent vehicle rollover.
Mahalo for your email and your concern. Yes, it can be incredibly dangerous on Mauna Kea, but in order for government to enforce a rule or law, there must be a rule or a law.
According to the management plan, there are no administrative rules preventing normal access except during heavy snow, at night and when it is too crowded. The last instance might solve some of the problems on the summit puu, but it won’t prevent rental cars from accessing the mountain since it seems to be based on parking, and since people can park in disturbed areas, there is no shortage of parking.
John A. Burns Way, better known as Mauna Kea Access Road, is a state highway. OMKM, a state agency, manages the summit and the road all the way down to Hale Pohaku and also maintains a 40-foot wide corridor along part of the road downslope from Hale Pohaku.
The rental contract is a private contract between the car rental companies and the renter. As long as the the operator is obeying traffic laws, rules and regulations, they may drive on any public street, or restricted area with permission. The rental agencies can make a deal with OMKM to pay for a sign stating that rental cars are not allowed past Hale Pohaku, but the rule will only be as good as the enforcement from the rental agency.
The county can enforce state laws on the mountain road, but it will be tough to provide regular enforcement. Debates about banning rental cars end up extending to all private vehicles, and that spurs much controversy.
A permit system might be created, but will the state make exceptions for cultural practitioners? Agencies responsible for the mountain are also hesitant to restrict access since they will be deluged with angry
residents who want to go to the summit when it snows.
We would like to see a safer mountain that everyone has access to and if you have any ideas or suggestions, please let us know.