EDITORIAL – The origin of Cayman’s traffic accidents: Our ‘big bang’ theory

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.

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  1. Cayman Compass Editor, I think we should call that one , “Cayman Sunshine Road Trip” glad to be able to have another one . But I think that the driving situation is worse than it was 50 years ago . I know people who couldn’t read or write , but got their drivers license and never had an road accident in their life .

  2. You seem to have come up with a host of explanations for our incredibly high accident rate, but ignored by far the most important one. The real problem is we simply have a very large number of very bad drivers on our roads. Many of these accidents involve high speed and/or drink and drugs, often involving a single vehicle, including a significant number of hit and runs, some of the fatal. CUC must have replaced thousands of light poles over the years. Just look at “normal” driver behaviour which I witness every day, turning without a signal, driving straight through red lights,cutting corners when making a right turn at a junction, overtaking on bends, using sections of straight roads as a race track, sending text messages whilst driving,improper use of roundabouts, just to name a few. This behaviour extends unfortunately even to those who should above all be setting exemplary standards of driving on our roads, such as the former head of the RCIP traffic dept., and a vehicle examiner at the DVDL.

  3. Putting aside all of the above, one of the biggest issues on the roads is the amount of left hand drive vehicles.. Turning left out of a junction is not the only issue here though.. I’ve always questioned to myself whether the lights on the US vehicles have been adjusted in order to stop blinding oncoming traffic even when on low beam? All cars are set up so the headlights are directed toward the side of the road on which the car is driving. In Europe you cannot even drive a right hand drive car without blacking out the right focus on your headlamps. Ever driven down a poorly lit road and been blinded by oncoming traffic which is oblivious to your struggle? In most countries the focus of a car’s headlamps are checked during MOT/Reg check so they must be corrected or you simply are not permitted to drive the vehicle.. Speaking of lights, the test over here (or indeed anyone swapping over or picking up a new license) should have the rules/right of way of a roundabout shown to them along with the correct use of the indicator which can mean literally anything over here and that’s when someone even uses it! One last thing – hazzard lights are for stationary vehicles.. otherwise how is anyone supposed to know when you’re planning on turning off if your indicators are already preoccupied! Sorry.. Rant over!

  4. Your Editorial accurately identifies some of the causes of poor driving on our roads but may I suggest a couple more:
    Poor driver training – in many cases people who can barely drive (and certainly cannot drive properly) are “teaching” others to drive. While I’m not one for more laws (more to NOT be enforced), in the interest of road safety and saving lives, perhaps there should be only approved and licensed driving instructors permitted to train anyone/everyone to drive.
    Poor driver testing – I once had a conversation with a member of the unit which does driver testing & licensing – he didn’t know who has right-of-way on a roundabout! From the general standard of licensed drivers on our roads today, I would suggest that may not be the only deficiency in that unit.
    Conducted properly, these two measures would address many of the poor driving habits we observe.

    While we cannot claim to have ever been a paragon of great driving standards, there is no question that driving habits have deteriorated as the roads have become more crowded.

  5. Roads designed to fail. Our incredibly bad and unsafe road design is either contorted to fit within space restraints or just ignorantly drawn on paper by people with no understanding of Road Design. Consequently, our roads are designed to cause vehicle accidents. The proof is documented daily. This is even visible at the new Dart roundabouts! Add to that; the Mario Andretti wannabes and our accident rate is surprisingly small. This is an NRA failure. From Wikipedia:

    “Road design involves the consideration of three major factors (human, vehicular, and roadway) and how these factors interact to provide a safe highway. Human factors include reaction time for braking and steering, visual acuity for traffic signs and signals, and car-following behaviour. Vehicle considerations include vehicle size and dynamics that are essential for determining lane width and maximum slopes, and for the selection of design vehicles. Highway engineers design road geometry to ensure the stability of vehicles when negotiating curves and grades and to provide adequate sight distances for undertaking passing maneuvers along curves on two-lane, two-way roads.”