Foreign drivers could face tests

If one local lawmaker gets his way foreign workers will no longer be able to obtain a Cayman Islands licence to drive by simply presenting a driver’s licence from their home country.

‘(Caymanians) can’t do it when we go elsewhere,’ said Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean. ‘Certainly there are big road systems elsewhere, but most of those drive on the right, and they say we drive on the wrong side of the road. That’s what I’m concerned about.’

Cayman allows people who are here on work permits up to three months before they must get a local driver’s licence. After that, those workers have to take a driving test.

However, anyone seeking a Cayman Islands driver’s licence within their first three months here can simply walk into a licensing office, fill out a form, pay a varying sum of money, and get a local license.

Business permits can also be issued to drivers staying here for less than six months, and are generally obtained by tourists and other short-term visitors.

Mr. McLean has not drafted a specific proposal, nor has he said whether he wants foreign workers who already have a Cayman Islands driver’s licence to take a test before their licence expires. However, Mr. McLean said he did not want temporary visitors subjected to the added licensing requirements.

‘We would like to think that visitors would not create accidents,’ said Mr. McLean. ‘But certainly people who want to live here permanently, we don’t know where their licence comes from, we don’t know where they acquired it.’

The most recent statistics from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service show a big increase in traffic accidents from this year to last. RCIPS said there have been 844 accidents from Jan.-Sept. of this year, compared to 551 in the same nine months last year. Fatal wrecks more than doubled in the first nine months of 2006.

RCIPS stats don’t break down how many accidents were caused by Caymanian citizens and how many were caused by foreign nationals. But they have caused considerable concern among Legislative Assembly and Cabinet Members.

‘The time has come for us to put the road system in place to direct people on how to drive, because obviously they’re not doing it from a courteous perspective,’ Mr. McLean said.

Cayman has also seen fraudulent driver’s licences brought into the country in recent years from the Philippines.

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said this allowed people who may never have operated a car to drive on Caymanian roads.

‘There was a particular nationality that was forging driver’s licences,’ said Mr. Clifford.

Mr. Clifford said his colleague’s idea was worthy of study, but he stopped short of giving it a full endorsement. ‘I think we have to be very, very careful about how we approach the situation.’

Ken Chand, a manager at the Motor and General Insurance Company, said it probably would be a good idea to give a licence test to all drivers coming into the country. However, he said, there’s no guarantee that would have any effect on insurance rates.

Mr. Chand also noted additional driver’s tests will put more strain on an already busy licensing infrastructure.

‘It will cost the government more money,’ he said. ‘You’ll need more examiners….so who’s going to pay for that? You and me with the licensing fees.’

However, Mr. Chand agreed that the potential for abuse and fraud exists in the current government system, since it’s hard to prove a person’s licence is valid if you can’t tell what language it’s printed in. ‘You get a European licence, or one from the Middle East, who’s going to read it in Cayman?’

Another programme aimed at making Cayman’s roads safer has yet to be implemented, despite being taken up in the LA more than two years ago.

Mr. McLean said some anomalies were found in the proposed graduated licensing programme for teenage drivers and that there have been some concerns about how training would be done. He believes the government will be able to say when the programme would be implemented within the next few months.

Mr. Clifford said its crucial any legislation passed is capable of being enforced, and that the government does have some concerns about that with the graduated licensing programme.

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