Road safety claim refuted

Local insures refuted a claim made by Cabinet Minister Arden McLean that Cayman’s roads are safer now than they were in years past.

Citing figures from the Cayman Islands Compendium of Statistics, Mr. McLean said at the Cabinet press briefing Friday that there are fewer accidents per thousand vehicles now than there were even in 1970.

‘The roads are safer to drive on [now],’ said Mr. McLean.

There were 2002 vehicles registered in 1970 and 259 accidents that year. Those numbers correspond to a rate of 129 accidents per 1,000 cars registered.

By comparison, in the Compendium of Statistics shows that in 2005 there were 31,466 vehicles registered and 492 accidents, for a rate of 16 accidents per 1,000 vehicles registered.

Mr. McLean said that the Compendium of Statistics showed a continuous decrease in the accident rate over the years.

Mr. McLean pointed that although there were 14 traffic deaths in 2006, it was by no means a record. Once again citing figures from the Compendium of Statistic, Mr. McLean said there were 21 traffic fatalities in 1985 and 20 in 1990.

‘I can assure you that [the 14 deaths in 2006] were not a record,’ he said, adding that he was not rejoicing over the fact.

Mr. McLean said the fact that the number of cars in the country has continued to increase should be considered.

‘By and large, the country has come a long way with safety on the roads,’ he said

Although the statistics seemed to support Mr. McLean’s claim that the roads have become safer over the years, insurers pointed out how the statistics could be misleading.

‘The police changed the way they recorded accidents,’ said Ken Chand of Motor and General Insurance. ‘People didn’t have to report minor accidents anymore.’

Sergeant Adrian Barnett of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Services Traffic Department confirmed that the police changed the way they responded to accidents – and as a result they way they recorded accidents – in the mid-1990s.

‘When I came here, police would respond to every accident in the Cayman Islands,’ he said. ‘Now, if the parties can come to an agreement… police don’t get involved.’

Sgt. Barnett said police now only come if they are called into a contentious situation as to who is at fault or where there is a personal injury or damage to other property.

The change had a marked effect on statistics. The Compendium of Statistics shows that in 1995 there were 1,072 accidents and a rate of 62 accidents per 1,000 vehicles registered. In 1997 there were only 480 accidents and a rate of 23 accidents per 1,000 vehicles registered. No year between 1992 and 1996 had fewer than 753 accidents; all years since then until 2005 had between 453 and 528 accidents.

The new police approach means that many accidents go unreported to the police, even in some cases when a claim is filed with an insurance company.

Mr. Chand said Motor and General averages about 200 accident reports per year and it is only one of at least six auto insurers locally. And it is not the largest vehicle insurer either.

Motor and General’s auto claims have actually started to reduce in number, from 200 in 2004 to 175 in 2005 and 180 in 2006.

‘Our reduction is due to more stringent underwriting standards,’ he said. ‘We don’t write everything that comes through the door.’

Danny Scott, CEO of Sagicor General Insurance – formerly Cayman General Insurance – said his company had 201 accident claims in 2004 and 216 in 2005. The 2004 claims exclude the ones that were Hurricane Ivan related.

Between just two of the companies that offer vehicle insurance then, there were 401 accident claims in 2004 and 391accident claims in 2005. The Compendium of Statistics reported 518 total accidents in 2004 and 492 in 2005.

Mr. Scott disagrees with the notion that the roads are safer these days.

‘It’s not getting safer on the roads,’ he said. ‘That goes without question.’

Mr. Scott thinks Cayman has been tardy in getting the correct measures in place to avoid accidents.

‘It’s pure luck we haven’t had an even bigger problem,’ he said.

‘People get a licence here without even learning how to drive in this country

‘Look at the roundabouts. Ask somebody to explain how it works and when you need to get in a certain lane and no one knows.’

Arthur Bogle of Derek Bogle & Associates Insurance said that while the statistic might show that the number of reported accidents per thousand vehicles is going down, the severity of accidents is increasing.

‘We’re having a lot more serious accidents than five to ten years ago,’ he said.

One reason for the more serious accidents could be the age of the drivers.

‘There seems to be a lot more younger drivers,’ said Mr. Bogle, adding that younger drivers are more prone to accidents.

‘For the most part, younger drivers have a lot less sense of fear, and they do things like take their eyes off the road more,’ he said. ‘A lot of it is also excessive speed.’

With the statistics showing younger drivers get into more accidents, insurance companies have to charge considerably more to insure them.

‘Most companies don’t like to insure anyone under 22, and if they have to, they charge a lot more than someone over 25.’