The year 2012 changed forever how the Cayman Islands looked at driving and road safety.
Long-discussed wholesale changes to the Traffic Law, signed into law in late 2011, took effect on 21 September, 2012, allowing among other things; certain electric-powered vehicles to be driven on main roadways, a partial ban on cell phone driving, the implementation of road tests for foreign drivers and the establishment of an entirely new “road code” for drivers.
The law was changed so that those cited for seatbelt violations no longer had to attend court to pay their fines and traffic fines in general were substantially increased.
In addition, two long-debated, but seemingly never resolved issues were put to rest in regulations to the Traffic Law released late in the year. First, everyone who uses the roads will finally have a guide to using single and dual carriage roundabouts; and second, all taxis operating in the Cayman Islands will be required to operate with electronic meters that show how much a customer is being charged for the trip.
Prior to the passage of the new Traffic Law, anyone who displayed a foreign country driving licence could essentially “swap” that licence for a local one at the Department of Vehicle Licensing. Young Caymanian drivers were required to take driving lessons, educational courses and possess a learner’s licence for a certain period of time before being granted their licences.
The idea of testing foreign drivers is nothing new. It was proposed some six years ago by then-Works Minister Arden McLean who said at the time he believed residents of some foreign countries were bringing bogus driver’s licences into Cayman and exchanging them for local licences.
The Cayman Islands allows people who are here on work permits up to three months before they must get a local driver’s licence. After that, those workers would have to take a driving test.
However, anyone seeking a Cayman Islands driver’s licence within their first three months here can simply walk into a licensing office, fill out a form, pay a varying sum of money and get a local licence.
The change in the testing requirements for driving licenses won’t really affect tourists and nor will it affect expatriate workers who already posses valid Cayman Islands drivers licenses.
Cell phone ban
Driving while holding a cell phone up to your ear in Cayman is no longer allowed. The partial ban on operating cell phones while driving still allows certain types of “hands free” phones
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 says the phone “does not require the pressing of more than one button on the mobile phone to make, receive or terminate a telephone call”.
The law 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.
Those annoying orange vehicle clamps that often popped up on illegally parked cars are now a thing of the past.
Another major change leaves the responsibility of public parking enforcement up to police officers or their contracted agents. In other words, it will be up to the government or its contractors to enforce parking matters, not private companies.
“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 law 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 Law 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.
The Traffic Law 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.
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 Law.
These types of vehicles were not allowed to be registered and insured on local roads because they do not possess what is considered to be an “engine”, under the law. The new Traffic Law changes the definition of “vehicle”, which paves the way for electric cars.
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.