The New Year started very peacefully with mild weather and quiet celebration.
However, suddenly the peace was broken by fatal traffic accidents involving youths.
Since we arrived at this beautiful island just over a year ago, there has been one thing that has been bothering me a lot; road safety of all road users including pedestrians, drivers and cyclists.
Most notably the death toll of young drivers is increasing. Unless we stop the trend now, we are losing Cayman’s future.
It is so easy to blame the youngsters, but we have to take an all round approach to improve road safety. As well as educating young drivers, we, as a society, are responsible for providing the right environment and a culture of not driving recklessly.
For that we need tighter regulations in many respects. People may initially feel that regulations are making their life more difficult, however if they are aimed at reducing the number of traffic accidents and victims, the lawmakers are doing the right thing and demonstrating concern for the people of these islands.
To start with, our children and I have many times tried to cross West Bay Road to go to the shops and restaurants. I can tell you it is not an easy job.
We cannot find either Zebra crossings (cross walks), traffic lights or islands to make crossing easier and safer.
Cyclists often have no lights, reflectors or helmets and at night they cannot be easily spotted.
Not all the drivers are indicating properly or using correct lanes at roundabouts, so it is hard to judge if it is safe for us to go.
Many drivers are talking on cell phones behind the wheel and not paying enough attention to the other traffic.
As a mother of three, I have discussed with our kids over New Year’s dinner how to stop the waste of young lives in Cayman.
None of us are experts. But here are some of the proposals from our family based on the experience of driving in many different societies.
• Give drivers more education before and after issuance of licenses.
(In Japan drivers have to take refresher courses on regulations and driving skills before their licenses are renewed depending on the points they have accumulated for violations.)
• Make getting licenses more difficult.
(In the UK, most people fail the driving test at least once before passing.)
• Tougher penalties for drink/driving, speeding and careless driving.
(In the UK you will lose your license if you commit one serious or a couple of minor traffic offences especially in the first two years.)
• Strict enforcement
(Of course policemen cannot be everywhere all the time, but spot checks, breathalyzers and periodic campaigns help. Fixed and mobile speed cameras seem to work well in the UK as people know they can easily lose their license.)
• Ban cell phones behind the wheel.
(In case you need to talk to someone while you are driving, you can use a hand-free device though even these can distract attention.)
• More dedicated pedestrian crossings.
(Remember human life comes first.)
• Make headlights, reflectors and helmets compulsory.
(You get fined if you do not have them on in the UK.)
• Build dedicated cycling lanes wherever possible.
(This may not be done overnight, but over time this will help to encourage more cyclists rather than motor vehicles on the road, which have many benefits: healthier, environmentally friendly, less road congestion.)
Last but not least:
• Introduction of reliable and affordable public transport including late night services.
(And maybe a Park & Ride scheme, which is successful in several towns in the UK in easing congestion in the centre.)
It is time for us to be serious about road safety and foster young people to be sensible and more skilled road users, conscious of the risks not just for themselves but also for the family, friends and other road users.
Some of the above points can be implemented very easily. We should start from whatever we can immediately.
Tougher regulations are not to restrict us but to protect us.
Do not forget life comes first in the Cayman Islands.