Strict teen driving rules OK’d

The Legislative Assembly unanimously passed an amendment to the Traffic Law this week that requires a graduated driver’s licence process for those under the age of 20.

Leader of Government Business, McKeeva Bush, said the bill was necessary to help reduce the number of teen fatalities as a result of automobile crashes.

‘Here in the Cayman Islands, we all know more young people who have died in motor vehicle-related accidents than have died of disease,’ said Mr. Bush. ‘For a small community, we have paid a high price in grief and lost potential.’

It will now take teenagers longer to acquire a non-restricted adult driver’s licence because they will have to graduate from a learner’s permit to a restricted.

Teenagers now can obtain their full driver’s licence within six weeks of getting a learner’s licence. With the passing of the law, that process will now take a minimum of 15 months.

The law is designed to ‘mould safer teenage driving behaviour,’ Mr. Bush said.

Patricia Ebanks, whose teenage son Matthew was killed in an automobile accident in 2001, praised Minister Bush for moving the bill forward.

As founder of the MattSafe teen driver’s advocacy group, Ms. Ebanks has been a persistent proponent for graduated driver’s licences.

‘I hope that parents and other community members will appreciate what is being done in the interest of saving lives,’ she said.

‘It’s too late for those who have had such untimely deaths, but we can feel sure that many lives will be saved in the future.’

Once teenagers pass a written test to obtain a learner’s permit, they will be required to complete a longer period of supervised driving before they can move on to a restricted licence, Mr. Bush said.

Teens with learner’s permits will be given two options as to how to proceed.

In the first option, they can, over a three-month period, obtain 24 hours of practical driving experience, of which five hours must be with a qualified professional instructor.

As a second option, they can, over a six-month period, obtain a total of 40 hours practical driving experience with any driver who has held a valid driver’s licence for at least three years.

‘A longer period is required when there is no professional instruction, as these informal training sessions tend to be less vigorous and comprehensive,’ Mr. Bush said.

Both options require at least five hours of practical experience in the dark, and ban learners from driving between 10pm and 5am.

Vehicles driven by teenagers with learner’s permits will require a ‘TL’ sticker for teenage learner.

The ‘L’ sticker will still be used by adult learners 20 or older.

Once the practical experience phase is completed, teenagers will have to pass a road test to get their restricted licence, a phase that lasts one year.

Teenagers with a restricted licence will be under strict parameters.

They are not allowed to drive between the hours of 11pm and 5 am, unless they must do so for work-related purposes, and they cannot carry more than two passengers.

Those with restricted driver’s licences will also be under a zero alcohol policy.

Should a teenager not adhere to any of the restrictions or be convicted of a traffic offence in either the learner’s or restricted licence phase, they are subject to losing their licence for one year.

Mr. Bush said he believes the new law will have a major impact on rates of road deaths in Cayman. ‘Certainly, we cannot sit by and not make our very best effort to protect our young drivers from such untimely deaths.’

The bill received strong support from the Opposition, including East End MLA Arden McLean.

‘Like any parent, I guess, I too live in fear of my teenager losing his life,’ he said.

Mr. McLean called on parents to play a more involved role in the process of teens learning to drive.

‘We might not have to be here debating this if parents would take their responsibilities seriously,’ he said.

‘If parents do not take up the responsibility and ensure their children are not irresponsible, this legislation won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.’

Cabinet minister Roy Bodden also spoke of the role of parents in teen driving.

He said that because Cayman’s society is so affluent now, more young people have been afforded with automobile ownership, but without proper driver’s education.

While understanding that parents want to provide well for their children, Mr. Bodden said parents can sometimes do a greater disfavour for them than favour.

‘The onus is on parents to make sure children are responsible in their automobile ownership,’ he said.

Mr. Bodden said he hopes driver’s education can become part of the education curriculum.

‘I hope we can get to a point where driver’s education becomes one of the life skills we teach in our schools,’ he said.

George Town MLA Alden McLaughlin noted that the new law was sure to be unpopular with teenagers.

‘They’ll say, ‘you all had your time and now you want to take away our fun’,’ he said.

However, Mr. McLaughlin said passing the bill was not only the right thing for the House to do, but that it would be remiss of them not to do it.

‘It’s not going to prevent all road fatalities,’ he said. ‘But it will significantly lower the number of those killed on our roads.’

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