Police and the National Roads Authority have recommended that an updated traffic law ban the use of mobile phones behind the wheel, a practice that is already illegal in more than 60 countries.
Cell phones have been factors in some major accidents in the US, including a recent one in which a tow truck driver who was talking on one phone and texting on another ploughed into a swimming pool in New York.
Police traffic constable Tim Balls said there are no statistics regarding the prevalence of accidents involving mobile telephones in Cayman because the use of them was not currently illegal.
‘If a person has his cell phone on the seat beside him and it rings and he takes his eyes off the road for a few seconds and rear-ends someone, that’s his fault. That’s classified as careless driving. The cell phone was a causative effect,’ he said.
Police, the National Roads Authority and other parties have made recommendations to the government on what the new Traffic Law should include.
Members of the National Roads Authority sit on a committee working on updates to a number of laws and regulations including the Traffic Law, Traffic Regulations, Road Code and Motor Vehicle Insurance Law.
Managing Director of the National Roads Authority Brian Tomlinson said: ‘It was decided that the Road Code was the easiest and most important document to complete so that’s primarily where our focus was placed. The Road Code final draft is now complete but awaits input from the new Ministry.’
The Road Code was submitted to the ministry a year and a half ago, according to Aileen Samuels of the Cayman Islands Road Safety Advisory Council.
She said the council was not invited by the ministry to give any input on the draft of the new Traffic Law.
‘We were extremely disappointed not to have been consulted on this or given the opportunity to make recommendations,’ said the council’s Aileen Samuels.
She said the council had helped to draw up a 205-page Road Code, based on the British Highway Code. ‘It’s just sat on a shelf at the ministry since then,’ Ms Samuels said.
‘The last time the Road Code was updated was 1976. That’s why traffic is so appalling in Cayman. It’s not just down to the drivers; how are they supposed to know what the rules are when they’re not written down,’ said Ms Samuels.
Among the guidelines in the Road Code drawn up by Ms Samuels and others is a ban on the use of handheld electronic devices, such as telephones.
Mr. Tomlinson said the committee looked at a variety of amendments that were necessary to the Traffic Law and came to the conclusion that the Traffic Law was so convoluted that it needed ‘a complete re-write’.
‘Included in the re-write are suggestions for things like abolition of cell phone usage unless used via a hands free device. We haven’t done any comprehensive research on the pros and cons of these devices. I do know that UK and several major states in the US have laws restricting cell phone usage.’
He added that texting while driving is leading to an increasing number of serious crashes and fatalities globally.
‘The issue will no doubt be controversial and may or may not come to be in Cayman. At this point the committee has not addressed it full-on,’ he said.
A study by Virginia Tech University analysed the driving of 203 truck drivers and found that sending and reading text messages on their phones was the most hazardous distraction to the drivers, causing the risk of a crash to be 23 times as high as for a non-distracted driver.
The drivers spent nearly five seconds at a time with their eyes off the road while texting, the study found. At 55 miles per hour, the truck would have travelled the length of a football field during that time.
According to Cayman’s Ministry of Works, the draft of a new Traffic Law is under way. Included among the items are how the law will deal with electric cars, mobile phones and other new elements that were not considered when the original law was drawn up in 1991. A number of revisions have been made to the law over the years, with the most recent revision being in 2003.
Questions to the ministry on when the law was likely to be considered before the Legislative Assembly went unanswered by press time.
According to data from the Economics and Statistics Department, there are at least 47,600 mobile phones in Cayman, though that figure is thought to be a low estimate.