The cosmic image that appears on today’s front page – captured by UCCI’s Dr. Bill Hrudey and part of a display at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands – is an invitation to ponder the immeasurable vastness of the universe and the mysteries of its origin.
That, however, isn’t the “big bang” theory we’ll be examining in this editorial.
Rather, shifting our focus from the astral to the ordinary (or the heliacal to the humdrum), our immediate concern is the seemingly increasing frequency and severity of traffic accidents on Cayman’s roads.
Over the holiday weekend, public safety officials recorded a total of 34 motor vehicle collisions, including a two-car accident in Newlands which injured the drivers of both vehicles – one quite seriously.
Ranging from simple fender benders to tragic fatal accidents, it seems that Cayman’s problems with collisions, wrecks and smashups date back to shortly after the country’s first automobile – a 1905 Cadillac – rolled off a boat into George Town 104 years ago.
There are a number of factors that contribute to this unwelcome and unnatural phenomenon.
Consider the litany of environmental factors, such as poor lighting, obstructed views and overgrown foliage that make it difficult to see oncoming traffic on roadways. (A chainsaw in the hands of an eager operator could go a long way toward resolving the foliage hazards.)
Or contemplate the often-confusing – abstruse, or even abstract – signage that dots Cayman’s roadways and has been cropping up in bigger, bolder and more baffling incarnations near our country’s new roundabouts and junctions.
By the time a driver has had a chance to puzzle out the meaning of the hieroglyphical symbols (What are those squiggly lines? And what’s that dot mean?), the vehicle has already long overtaken whatever it was the sign was attempting to “signal.”
Anyway, a roadway is no place for a Rorschach test – particularly one that’s spangled with orange cones and temporary traffic barriers.
Our “under construction” zones include the busy Esterley Tibbetts and Linford Pierson highways, whose layout (four-lane, three-lane, four-lane, two-lane, four-lane, … smash!) suggests the country has a surfeit of accordion-trained road designers.
Meanwhile, old road markings (obscured but still visible) point motorists in directions (i.e., into oncoming traffic) that, if followed, would invite imminent death.
We’re being a bit cheeky, of course. We trust that, one day, the finished highways will facilitate a smooth and easy flow of automobiles (overloaded, outsize trucks are another matter).
Compounding the infrastructural issues are individual ones. Cayman’s resident motoring population hails from more than 100 countries – where they may have learned to drive on the left, on the right, or perhaps straight down the middle. (Ever been to Italy?)
Then there are the thousands of tourists driving rental cars at any given moment. You can identify them by their specialized license plates, their anxious searching for landmarks (or scrutable signs), their paralysis when approaching (or while navigating) roundabouts, and their unintentional activation of windshield wipers when they wish to indicate a turn.
In addition to potential unfamiliarity with left- or right-hand steering wheels, cultural differences abound. Is that Toyota honking to encourage that Ford to go first at the intersection? Is the driver angry? Is he saying, “Look out!”? Is he asking that pedestrian out for a date on Saturday night?
Mix in to this mess an undisciplined parade of Mad-Max motorbikers, purloined Foster’s Food Fair grocery carts, knock-kneed wobbly bicyclists and stroller-pushing baby-mamas.
Toss the whole concoction together, soak through with copious amounts of rum punch, add in a few dashes of mobile-phone distraction, and stir. That’s the perilous cocktail being served on Cayman’s roads.
With such a constellation of impediments, it is less remarkable that Cayman has so many traffic accidents than that it has so few.
Many drivers actually manage to arrive at their destinations, with their persons and vehicles pretty much intact.