Driving, talking and ticketing

The new Traffic Law for the Cayman Islands includes changes relating to the use of mobile phones while driving.

When the law was drafted it did not include any ban on the use of mobile phones while driving, but after public lobbying restrictions on the use of mobile phones while driving was included. While the law does not impose an outright ban on the use of mobile phones as some have advocated, the law does set restrictions as to how and when phones may be used.

The law states the phone has to be “secured in a mounting affixed to the vehicle while the mobile telephone is being used”. The law also requires the phone “does not require the pressing of more than one button on the mobile phone to make, receive or terminate a telephone call”.

Both these requirements have to be adhered to for mobile phone use to be legal while driving.

Although some newer vehicles come with Bluetooth wireless systems pre-installed or as an option, most vehicles will have to be retrofitted with a system allowing a mobile phone to be used in accordance with the law. The systems will usually include some form of voice command, making it unnecessary to handle the phone. However, it will require a compatible phone. Many of these systems are plug and play, which means they can be installed by consumers without expert knowledge. It is worth noting though that such systems can be affected by the ambient noise in a vehicle.

However, under the definition of ‘mobile phone’ under the law, there is an exclusion for “a separate earpiece or a separate mouthpiece, that is temporarily attached to the mobile telephone for the purpose of allowing the mobile telephone to be used without being hand-held or manipulated.”

This means the use of a Bluetooth wireless headset that does not necessitate the phone to be held or touched when answering or ending a call is legal under the law, without the mobile phone itself having to be in a mounting affixed to the vehicle. However, if the phone has to be “manipulated” to answer or end a call, in other words if a button on the phone itself has to be pressed, it would appear that it does not adhere to the law, which means that not all headsets may be in full compliance with the law. However, in most cases this would be a cheaper option, while at the same time adding functionality to the phone while not driving.

Bluetooth headsets and car kits are available from most mobile phone and phone accessory retailers in Grand Cayman, as well as from some service providers like LIME. Bluetooth headsets start at around $70, while car kits are more expensive, starting around $90. However, most solutions require a phone that has Bluetooth wireless capability, which many older phones do not. It would therefore mean some consumers will have to replace their mobile phones in order to access the technology necessary for making in car phone calls in compliance with the law.

There are exceptions to the ban, which apply in cases where a driver uses a mobile phone to call 911 in an emergency where it would be unsafe or impractical to pull over and stop the vehicle before placing the call.

Drivers also are allowed to use a hand-held mobile phone “when the vehicle that he is operating has stopped, having been removed from the normal flow of traffic” but for the purpose of the law this does not include vehicles stopped at traffic lights, stop signs, or stuck in stationary traffic. In such situations, the use of a hand-held mobile phone would still be in contravention of the law, even though the vehicle is not moving.

Does it go far enough

Although Cayman will be the latest in a long list of countries to enact some form of ban on the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving, a total ban on the use of mobile phones is rare.

However, in the same week the governor of the Cayman Islands signed the new Traffic Law into law, the National Transportation Safety Board in the United States called for a total ban on the use of mobile phones by drivers. According to the organisation, even using a hands-free kit with a mobile phone still results in dramatically decreased driver performance. Numerous scientific studies have shown that even the use of a hands-free kit with a mobile phone is still more distracting than holding a conversation with a passenger in the vehicle, although the reasons for this phenomenon has not yet been clearly explained. Distracted driving has been implicated in thousands of fatalities on US roads in 2010, a statistic which the organisation states should be reason enough for a total ban.