Those found in danger in hiking areas beyond closed or trespassing signs may soon bear the financial burden if they need to be rescued.

By Rachel Chang
February 24, 2021
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Don't say they didn't warn you. Along with the scenic hiking trails in Hawaii come inherent risks, be it flash-flood warnings, hazardous cliffs, or falling debris, among other dangers. Despite signage indicating that areas are closed, many still venture beyond the warnings and find themselves in precarious situations. To emphasize the importance of adhering to warnings, a proposed bill is making its way through the Hawaii state senate that would require those hikers who disobey signs to pay for their own rescues, CNN reports.

The bill, called S.B. No. 700, states, "Whenever any government entity engages in a search or rescue operation for the purpose of searching for or rescuing a person, and incurs search and rescue expenses therein, the government entity may seek reimbursement" in cases where "the need for search or rescue was caused by any act or omission by the person searched for or rescued, constituting intentional disregard for the person's safety, including, but not limited to, intentionally disregarding a warning or notice."

The reimbursement may be required from the person themselves, anyone who put them in danger, or even "the person's estate, guardians, custodians, or other entity responsible for the person's safety."

The proposal may seem harsh when it comes to life-or-death matters, but most of the incidents that occur could have been prevented if the proper precautions were taken, Hawaii Senator J. Kalani English told CNN. "It's one of these bills that seems hard, but at the end of the day, I think it makes a lot of sense." He estimates that about a thousand rescues take place each year, and that many can cost thousands of dollars.

English cited an example this month when a 26-year-old California tourist died as she was swept out to sea after a flash flood in Hana. The Maui Fire Department issued a warning: "Never cross or swim in streams/ponds when dark clouds are on the mountains. Flash flooding can still occur, even when sunny due to rain clouds at higher elevations," Hawaii News Now reported.

The senator reemphasized the need to heed warnings. "Because we have such a unique ecosystem, we have many, many natural dangers," English told CNN, adding that the Hana locals were "explicit" in warning about the "imminent" rain, but the traveler "still chose to ignore it." "That's the point — we cannot legislate responsibility, but we can legislate financially. We just wish people would heed the warnings."

English is one of the names who introduced the bill on Jan. 22. The committee will hold a public decision-making session by videoconference today. However it pans out, English hopes it "gets people to start thinking" and does not scare off travelers. He told CNN: "We want them to visit, we want them to enjoy it, we want them to survive and return and tell people what a great time they had."