Honolulu, HI–Hawaiian authorities are considering passing a law requiring hikers to cover rescue costs if they get lost or injured outside permitted trails and hiking areas.
In January this year, Hawaii State Senator Lynn Decoite introduced senate bill 786, which, if passed into law, will obligate lost or injured nature lovers to pay for their rescue if they do so while “ignoring warning signs, leaving a hiking trail to enter a prohibited area, or hiking on a trail closed to the public.”
Presently, stranded or injured hikers in Hawaii are rescued free of charge, regardless of whether they violated regulations or ignored warning signs.
The bill is currently under review in the state legislature and has gained support from many lawmakers who believe it will encourage responsible hiking.
“This measure intends to prevent people from unnecessarily putting themselves and others at risk while encouraging folks to take personal responsibility for their actions,” said State Senator Mike Gabbard, one of the bill’s sponsors, in a report adding that an air rescue costs the government $1500, covered by Hawaiian taxpayers.
A significant number of rescues occur annually, as the statistics indicate. Per another report, the Honolulu Fire Department performed 310 high-angle rescues in 2021 alone.
Given the operating expenses of a helicopter exceeding $2,500 per hour along with the personnel required, the expense of rescue operations is considerably high, whether the state or individuals bear it.
On the other hand, critics of the proposed bill argue that it will have negative consequences; for example, the Honolulu Police Department made a statement suggesting that passing such a law would discourage the prompt reporting of emergencies leading to possible danger to life.
Ex-senator Laura Thielen previously stated that the bill could unfairly penalize hikers who make innocent mistakes, such as taking a wrong turn on a trail.
There have been serious efforts in the region over the last few decades to pass bills seeking reimbursement from rescued hikers but to no avail. Even this bill, if passed, would come into effect only in the year 2050.
The debate over the bill highlights the ongoing tension between the desire to encourage outdoor recreation and the need to ensure public safety.
As more people take to hiking trails and other outdoor areas, lawmakers and officials grapple with balancing these competing priorities.