Drivers face tougher rules

A slew of new driving regulations are being planned after more than a dozen deadly accidents over the past 14 months.

Those tougher laws are likely to include: stiffer regulations on the importation of certain vehicles, and the possible prohibition of certain modified vehicles on island roads; restrictions on cell phone use while driving; automatic disqualification of a driver’s licence for excessive speeding, as well as increased fines for speeding and other traffic offences.

Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean provided an outline of the changes Friday during a press briefing. He said discussions still need to take place with stakeholder groups, including vehicle importers, insurance companies and the MattSafe road safety education committee before final details were worked out.

Mr. McLean also said a long-awaited graduated licensing programme for young drivers, which was approved by the Legislative Assembly in early 2005, should be introduced by 1 July.

‘This is a lot of work to be done,’ said Mr. McLean.

He said some of the new regulations – like graduated driver’s licences – were not being implemented solely because of the recent traffic accidents, many of which claimed the lives of young Caymanians.

‘It’s not a small job. This didn’t just occur as a result of the fatalities. The government has not been sitting down waiting for something to happen.’

Earlier this month Mr. McLean met with Governor Stuart Jack, the Commissioner of Police, officials with the National Roads Authority, and the Vehicle Licensing Department to plan how the island would address road safety.

The proposed regulations, which Mr. McLean said have received the preliminary endorsement of Cabinet, came partly as a result of those discussions.

Among the issues being researched for recommendation to the Cabinet is the introduction of a driver’s licence point system.

‘We’re talking about one that you’re given a certain amount of points and every infraction you get a certain amount of points reduced,’ he said. ‘The more serious (the violation), you would lose more points.’

Cabinet may also revamp the manner in which people are charged for speeding. As opposed to the current $100 fine for each 10 miles-per-hour over the speed limit, Mr. McLean said the regulations would establish a specific fine per mile above the limit.

‘Then after you get over a certain amount, say 20-30 miles per hour (over the limit), you would have to go to court and you….get your licence revoked.’

Government is also looking at establishing lower speed limits in certain areas. For example, it is considering a 15 mile-per-hour limit in residential subdivisions, school zones, or commercial subdivisions. 40mph speed limits may also be lowered to 35mph on select roads.

Separate legislation may be required for school zones, construction areas and to ensure people drive safely around school buses.

Cabinet will review the possibility of fines for drivers who use hand-held devices such as cell phones or BlackBerrys.

Mr. McLean said he did not expect this would lead to a full ban on motorists using cell phones inside a car.

‘Certainly you wouldn’t be able to have your hands up to your ear,’ he said. ‘But if people have to pull off (the road) or have to use the hands-free equipment…we’re certainly going to be looking at it.’

Several regulations may affect what kind of vehicles can be imported and whether modified vehicles will be allowed on Cayman Islands roads.

Mr. McLean said he was particularly concerned about cars that do not have modern safety cages, which are often called roll cages or roll bars, to protect car passengers. He did not state whether any specific vehicle models would be banned outright, but acknowledged that possibility.

‘If it comes to that, if we feel some makes of cars do not meet those safety standards…we will ban them from coming into the country.’

Traffic regulations may also allow inspectors to fail vehicles that are modified from original manufacturer specifications. Under the proposal, imported cars would be checked for safety standards and year of manufacture before being allowed into the country.

The police commissioner and licensing department would be given discretion in determining how dark tinted windows could be on vehicles.

Motorcycle drivers might also face additional licensing requirements if their bike engines are larger than 125cc. Those could include mandatory rider-training courses.

There are no plans to have public meetings on the regulations before they are finalized and presented to the Cabinet.

‘But if that’s necessary, then we’ll do it,’ said Mr. McLean.

Mr. McLean