A partial ban on the use of cell phones while driving in Cayman recommended 18 months ago as part of changes to the Islands’ Traffic Law has not materialised, despite support from local police and the National Roads Authority.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and a Seventh-day Adventist Church group are targeting 2011 as the year when that will hopefully change.
“Cell phone use is one aspect we will be looking to address within our planned multi-agency road safety strategy,” said RCIPS Chief Inspector Angelique Howell. “While there is nothing currently within legislation that bans the use of cell phones whilst driving, it is clear that any activity undertaken by a driver that distracts him or her, results in a collision, or impairs driving ability could result in a charge of careless or dangerous driving.”
“The RCIPS has recommended the banning of cell phones. This recommendation is contained within the new draft traffic law, which was submitted for consideration by Cayman Islands legislators in 2008.”
That initial recommendation in the Traffic Bill was proposed only for hand-held cell phones and would have allowed the use of hands-free speaker phones or Bluetooth devices in cars.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency – an arm of the Seventh-day Adventists – began a public education and survey effort focused on the dangers of “cell phone” driving, including texting and Internet browsing, last year. A survey on the subject that began in late October has now been completed and the agency’s local deputy director for special projects, Mitch Evans, said they plan to release those results soon.
“We have also been in touch with members of the government advising them of our intent to launch this programme, as well as the future plans to have legislation tabled before the Legislative Assembly to enact such laws against cell phone driving in the Cayman Islands,” Mr. Evans said.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency did some preliminary research in 2010 about efforts to ban texting and cell phone use while driving in the United States.
According to the agency’s research, 30 out of 50 US states have banned text messaging while driving for all drivers. Eight other states have partial bans on texting while driving.
“Partial bans apply to specific people such as school bus drivers or persons between the age of 18-20,” the group stated.
The agency identified eight US states that had already enacted laws to ban handheld cell phone use while driving and five other states had partial bans in place.
“No [US] states currently have laws enacted to ban headset or hand-free cell phone devices,” the church agency said. “However, partial laws are in place in 29 states, which prohibit [hands-free devices] for bus drivers, under age 18 drivers and novice drivers,” the agency stated.
Not all US states that have enacted cell phone bans as ‘primary offences’. This means that in some US states drivers can only be cited for cell phone usage while driving if they are first pulled over for another offence such as speeding or reckless driving.
“The range of fines for those caught breaking the law in relation to cell phones [is] anywhere from US$50 to US$1,000 depending on the state,” the Adventist agency stated.
Cell phone use deadly?
The agency quoted other research from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society that blamed cell phone “distraction” for 2,600 deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries in the US each year.
“The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society have also identified that drivers talking on cell phones are 18 per cent slower to react to brake lights and that they also take 17 per cent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked,” the agency noted.
The group also cited another study from the University of Utah that indicated driving while using a cell phone was as dangerous as drink driving.
“Earlier this year [referring to 2010], a truck driver killed 11 people in Kentucky and it appears from the investigation that he was operating a cell phone while operating his tractor-trailer,” the group’s research stated. “Published reports show that he was receiving and making cell phone calls in the moments leading up to the accident.”
In conclusion, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency stated: “Texting while operating a motor vehicle poses the highest risk for cell phone usage on a public road. Although using hand-held phone devices while driving are not banned by the majority of US states, it is still considered to be a huge distraction while driving.”