It’s been about five years in coming, but Cayman Islands lawmakers on Friday approved massive changes to how traffic matters will be regulated here.
Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly told the Legislative Assembly the new Traffic Bill would be replacing Cayman’s 8-year old Traffic Law.
“The time has now come to enhance the Traffic Law, making it more reflective of the situation we find on our roads today,” Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly said.
The bill, when signed into law by the governor, will bring major changes in the areas of who can drive and what tests they will require, what type of vehicles can be driven, and how police will enforce the laws with regard to causing fatal accidents, driving while using cell phones and parking.
Hand-held cell phone ban
After it was left out of the original draft of the Cayman Islands Traffic Bill early this year, a partial ban on using a cell phone while driving has been put back into the legislation.
According to officials within the Ministry of Works, who led efforts to redraft the law, what is now proposed is not a total ban on using a cell phone while driving.
“You have to have [the cell phone] hands free, and there are certain stipulations on using it,” said ministry assistant chief officer Tristan Hydes. “There are restrictions.”
The bill does not make it an offence to call 911 on a hand-held cell phone to report an emergency to police, fire or ambulance crews. It also allows the use of hand-held phones in a vehicle that has been stopped and is out of the way of traffic; that does not include drivers who are backed up in traffic jams at stop lights or stop signs.
Provisions for both neighbourhood electric vehicles and electric-powered cars that can be driven on Cayman Islands roads alongside gas-powered cars are included in the Traffic Bill.
Neighbourhood electric vehicles are lower-powered cars generally driven on side streets and parking lots, but which cannot be driven on main thoroughfares. Larger, faster brands of electric-powered vehicles will be allowed to be registered for use on local roads.
Right now, most electric-powered vehicles can’t be registered in the Cayman Islands because they can’t go fast enough and some only travel up to 40 to 50 miles on a charge.
However, vehicles currently being imported by Cayman Automotive can travel at speeds of 65 to 85 miles per hour and can drive up to 100 miles on a charge.
Tests for foreign drivers
Foreigners who come to the Cayman Islands to live and work will be required to take at least a written driver’s test – and in some cases a road test – to obtain a driver’s licence, but the change won’t really affect tourists.
Under the proposal, any visitors or foreign residents who already hold a licence from their home country can drive in Cayman for up to six months, if those individuals come from a country that was a contract member of the convention on road traffic in Paris (1926), Geneva (1949) or Vienna (1968). Those conventions include most of the larger countries that make up the majority of the foreign population in Cayman, however, Jamaica does not appear on the most recent lists available for countries that have signed up to the Vienna convention.
The US, Australia and New Zealand also did not sign up to the 1968 Vienna convention, but they appear in earlier versions of the agreement.
After the six-month period has expired, the changes in the Traffic Law would require the driver to pass a written test. Drivers from the ‘convention countries’ would not have to take a road test to be issued a Cayman Islands drivers licence.
However, individuals who do not hold licences from a ‘convention country’ would be required to pass both a written and road test to get their Cayman Islands drivers licence.
“This is no different from what obtains in other countries,” Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said.
The bill as proposed would allow a person with a Cayman licence that is about to expire or who has held a local licence within the past five years to renew without taking a driving test.
“For purposes of renewal, a licence issued under the repealed law is as good as a licence issued under this law,” the bill states.
Another major change leaves the responsibility of public parking enforcement up to police officers or their contracted agents.
Wheel clamping will be outlawed in public parking places.
“A person who operates as an agent for the clamping of vehicles in public places; or clamps or tows away a vehicle in a public place commits an offence,” the bill reads.
The change does not mean individuals who park illegally in public places, or who park illegally in private spaces cannot be towed.
The current Cayman Islands Traffic Law (2003 Revision) already gives a police constable the power to take possession of and remove a vehicle if it is abandoned, parked in an unlawful or unsafe manner, left in a dangerous condition, or if it is involved in an accident. In any of those cases, the vehicle can be towed to a police impound lot and its owner charged a per-day fee until it is claimed, with the exception of cars involved in a wreck.
The revised Traffic Bill creates a new job called a “vehicle removal agent”; a person that will be licensed under regulations drawn up by the government to assist police in instances where vehicles need to be removed.
In such a case, fees for the removal would be paid to the vehicle-removal agent and not the commissioner of police, as the law current prescribes.
The new Traffic Bill creates criminal offences where none existed before for “inconsiderate” or “careless” driving in instances where another person is killed.
The section of the bill reads: “A person who drives a vehicle or animal on a road without care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons, and by so doing causes the death of another person commits an offence.”
The charge of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving carries a maximum $10,000 fine and up to seven years in prison upon conviction. In addition, the guilty party could have their driving licence taken away for three years or longer, depending on any jail sentence received.
Cayman currently has criminal offences for causing death by reckless or dangerous driving, but the lower standard of carelessness is not applied.
The bill also creates a separate and new criminal offence for disqualified drivers who cause fatal accidents; for instance, drivers who do not have insurance or updated coupons on their vehicle.
Again, the offence would carry up to a seven year imprisonment term plus fines upon conviction.
The revised Traffic Bill also introduces licensing requirements for driving instructors who operate in the Cayman Islands.
The specifics of those requirements will be worked out in the regulations to the law, which have not yet been finalised. However, the revised bill does not include provisions for a graduated licensing programme for young drivers.
That programme was made part of the Islands’ Traffic Law by legislators in March 2005 and had a planned implementation date of January 2007.
That never happened and one of the stated reasons for delays in implementing the programme at the time was getting qualified driving instructors to participate.