Police urge road safety after deadly year

After one of the deadliest years ever on the country’s roadways, Cayman Islands police officers are vowing to do whatever they can to improve safety in 2016.

Inspector Adrian Barnett said officers will continue the concentrated traffic enforcement efforts of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s holiday safety initiative, Operation Magpie, throughout the year, with more roadblocks during the day and night, in addition to other strategies.

Mr. Barnett, head of the RCIPS Traffic Management Unit, said he hopes education, enforcement, a more visible police presence and proactive policing can help to improve road safety this year, but that “it’s up to the motoring public, as well.”

Copy of ET car crash 2 (Read-Only)
The driver was not seriously injured in this rollover on Dec. 19, 2015. Last year was one of the deadliest years ever on the country’s roadways – PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

“I’ve been beating the drum for years and years … but if people don’t listen, there isn’t going to be any change, whether we’re on the road or not,” Mr. Barnett said. “We can’t be everywhere at once.”

Last year was particularly difficult for the inspector and other officers who handle serious traffic accidents.

“Every time there is a fatality, we have to knock on somebody’s door, inform somebody that a relative has been killed in a car crash,” Mr. Barnett said. “Last year was a rough year for me and for my guys.”

Twelve people died on Cayman’s roads last year – three times as many as in 2014 – making it one of the deadliest years on record.

Non-fatal traffic accidents were up last year as well. While final 2015 traffic statistics will not be released until the end of this month, Mr. Barnett said there was an average of 40 collisions a week in 2015. In the first week of 2016, there were 39 collisions.

“For the size of this island, these figures … it’s absolutely scandalous,” Mr. Barnett said.

The high rate of road deaths in the Cayman Islands in 2015 puts it among the most dangerous countries in which to drive in the Western Hemisphere, according to data collected by the World Health Organization and published in its Global status report on road safety 2015.

The report includes the rates of road fatalities for 180 countries, using data from 2013, or the most recent data available. The Cayman Islands is not included in the report, but if it had been (using the 2013 road fatality rate), the country would have been ranked then as one of the safest in the Americas, and in the world, with a road fatality rate of 10.26.

Recalculating Cayman’s ranking using its death rate for 2015 (20.6), the country becomes the seventh most dangerous country (out of 32) in which to drive in the Americas and 66th most dangerous country in the world.

According to Mr. Barnett, various factors contributed to the high incidence and severity of traffic accidents, including road design and the fact that there are more cars on the road than ever before.

Most of the accidents, he said, are minor fender-benders that could be easily avoided if drivers were more alert.

More than anything else, though, speeding and drunk driving are to blame for the worst accidents, he said.

“Drunk driving here is an epidemic,” Mr. Barnett said.

He wishes there were more taxis and a bus system that catered to riders at night, in addition to a more efficient daytime service, so that drunk drivers might be less inclined to take a chance driving themselves home.

But drivers were not the only people in danger on Cayman’s roads this year.

Some of the more serious traffic accidents in 2015 involved pedestrians.

“If you’ve ever driven on South Sound at six o’clock in the morning, it’s absolutely horrible. It’s like running a gauntlet,” Mr. Barnett said. “You’ve got people running with their dogs, you’ve got cyclists, you’ve got people walking with no lights.”

Mr. Barnett said pedestrians need to be more vigilant when walking near or crossing a road, and in general, everyone using the road system needs to take responsibility for safety by following the road code and taking common sense precautions.

The inspector acknowledged, however, that many people think they can do anything on the road and get away with it. “That is the feeling on the island at the moment,” Mr. Barnett said. “And that’s going to stop.”

He said police “get a lot of stick” for not enforcing traffic laws, but the numbers show just how many dangerous drivers the police arrest.

Last year, he said, 284 people were arrested for DUI, a significant jump from 153 in 2014. In the first half of 2015, 593 people were ticketed for speeding, compared to 659 for all of 2014. So far in 2016, nine people have been arrested for DUI.

“These figures speak for themselves,” Mr. Barnett said.

The inspector said his goal for his police career is to go a full year without any traffic fatalities.

It has never happened, he said, adding that he has dealt with more than 100 traffic fatalities over the years.

He hopes that 2016 will be the year to reach his goal, but the chance of that happening, “is very, very slim.”

“But you never know. If we can get past the first three months of the year [without a fatality], then we might be getting somewhere.”