Two-dimensional and three-dimensional kinetic simulation results reveal the importance of the lower-hybrid drift instability (LHDI) to the onset of magnetic reconnection. Both explicit and implicit kinetic simulations show that the LHDI heats electrons anisotropically and increases the peak current density. Linear theory predicts these modifications can increase the growth rate of the tearing instability by almost two orders of magnitude and shift the fastest growing modes to significantly shorter wavelengths. These predictions are confirmed by nonlinear kinetic simulations in which the growth and coalescence of small scale magnetic islands leads to a rapid onset of large scale reconnection. (C) 2004 American Institute of Physics.