The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is backing changes to local traffic laws that would make it easier to seize and destroy motorbikes that are not street legal, Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said Friday.
In addition, Mr. Byrne said the police service was working with other government agencies to increase traffic fines for things like speeding, DUI, driving without insurance and other traffic offenses “across the board.”
The proposals are under discussion with the attorney general’s office and would eventually need legislative support to take effect, the commissioner said.
Mr. Byrne told reporters Friday that police are having difficulty seizing illegal bikes in certain cases because of the way the current Traffic Law is written.
“[In some cases] police officers do not have the power to seize those bikes … and the bikes we take possession of, we cannot destroy them,” Mr. Byrne said. “We want the power to seize and destroy illegal motorbikes.”
Cayman law currently does not allow unlicensed, unregistered vehicles of any sort to be used on the road, but there is an outstanding legal question of whether certain dirt bikes or other unlicensed motorbikes could be made street legal with modifications.
In 17 traffic prosecutions pursued by the RCIPS last year involving unregistered or illegally operated motorbikes, the vehicles had to be given back to the owner in at least five instances because no offense was detected, according to records obtained by the Cayman Compass via the Freedom of Information Law.
Eight of those 17 investigations ultimately led to no prosecution.
The main difficulty those cases, according to records obtained by the Compass, is that police could not formally identify the motorbike driver.
The Cayman Compass reviewed the specific details of the eight investigations where no charges were preferred and found that in some cases, no one came forward to claim the seized vehicle, which remained in police custody. In other investigations, the vehicle owner demanded to receive it back from police impound and if there was no proof of that person using the motorbike illegally, it was returned.
“The RCIPS has no legal basis on which to continue to detain motorbikes once the required documents are presented and verified,” said Chief Inspector Raymond Christian, who responded to the Compass open records request.
Regarding the increase in traffic fines, Commissioner Byrne said police were discussing the specific amounts for each offense with Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing officials.
The commissioner said it was clear from 2017 data that police traffic enforcement had fallen off, while the number of vehicle crashes had increased.
Cayman reported 2,725 traffic accidents during 2017, while having just 1,295 collisions in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of offenses for traffic violations, particularly for things like speeding, cellphone driving and seatbelt violations decreased drastically during the same period. Speeding tickets fell from 1,702 issued in 2016 to just 647 issued during 2017, for instance.
“For part of 2017, we did not have a fully functioning traffic unit,” Mr. Byrne said, adding that the traffic officers police did have needed new radar equipment for their vehicles. That equipment is now on order, he said. The traffic unit has since been fully staffed with an inspector, two sergeants and 10 officers solely focused on traffic enforcement and the results are starting to show so far in 2018, according to Police Superintendent Robert Graham.
Mr. Graham said, for the last quarter of 2017, police issued 192 speeding tickets. In the first three months of this year, 672 speeding tickets have been issued – surpassing the total number recorded during all of last year. For drunken driving cases, police went from 78 citations during the last quarter of 2017 to 153 citations in the first three months of this year.
Mr. Byrne said local residents would continue to see more visible police traffic enforcement efforts with daily road checks in school zones and roadblocks continuing as necessary.