A Cayman Islands Cabinet Minister said Friday that fears about politics delaying or even ending plans to implement certain safety programmes for local drivers were unfounded.
‘Has there ever been a time in the last six years that I’ve been afraid to make an unpopular decision?’ Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean rhetorically asked at a press briefing last week. ‘I’ll leave it at that.’
The government has been under pressure recently to do something about traffic problems after a string of accidents since December left five young men dead. The Cayman Islands saw an overall 133 per cent increase in fatal road accidents from 2005 to 2006.
Last month, the MattSafe driver education group sent a petition to government urging the implementation of a graduated licencing programme for young motorists, as well as a driver’s education programme in government-run schools.
Amendments to the Traffic Law which included graduated licencing were passed in 2005 by the Legislative Assembly, but have not been commenced. Driver’s ed was not part of the amended law, however Education Minister Alden McLaughlin has vowed to make it part of the curriculum.
Graduated licencing can be described as a step-by-step programme that young drivers would have to complete prior to earning a full driving licence.
After taking a written test to earn a Teenage Learner’s Licence, young drivers would be given a certain amount of time to clock road hours with a licenced driver and a qualified professional driving instructor.
Mr. McLean said both types of practical driving experience would be needed before young drivers could graduate to a full licence. He also intended to keep the graduated licencing programme separate from driver’s education, once that’s implemented in schools.
‘After you get out of high school you also have to go through the other two processes,’ said Mr. McLean. ‘To prove you have been guided properly by a licensed driver…and you also have to go through a recognised instructor’s course.’
Mr. McLean said some of the delays in implementing graduated licencing involved hiring and training instructors who would clock driving time with learners.
‘It’s necessary to licence training instructors. We have a whole new regulation of that area.’
MattSafe officials said they had received assurances that the Licencing Department would be ready to licence driving instructors by June. Mr. McLean has said he hopes to have the entire programme in place this year.
The Cayman Islands government is also looking at several other measures it hopes will reduce the number of accidents involving older, licenced drivers.
Mr. McLean said he had planned to meet Friday, 2 February with the Governor, Police Commissioner and officials with the National Roads Authority to discuss whether any of the recent traffic fatalities were caused by road engineering difficulties.
‘Particularly we’re looking at things like additional signage…and employing different methods for traffic control,’ Mr. McLean said.
The minister mentioned one location on Sea View Rd. where 18-year-old Davado Romar McField died in a car crash last month that has long been known in the East End community as a traffic trouble spot.
Another method to help reduce accidents may include the use of speed cameras. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has been testing the devices in recent months, but a final decision on whether to use them may be required by the Cabinet or Legislative Assembly.
‘Personally, I believe we need to do it,’ said Mr. McLean. ‘But it doesn’t happen overnight. I believe we need to ensure…it’s properly tested, and it’s working properly.’
The government is considering increasing fines for traffic violations. Mr. McLean said he’s also studying whether the Cayman Islands should implement a ‘point system’ for violators which could lead to a licence being suspended, depending on how many citations are issued.
‘We have to stop the rampage,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘This (driving situation) is going to turn into something that we are not going to like in our country.’