EDITORIAL – Shift road safety and enforcement into a much higher gear

A Royal Cayman Islands Police officer talks to a driver during December's road safety campaign, during which 55 were arrested for drunk driving.

Police Commissioner Derek Byrne recently announced a three-year plan for Cayman Islands law enforcement, including a substantial increase in traffic enforcement operations. When it comes to roadways and highways, we rarely advise greater speed, but in this instance, we urge Commissioner Byrne to put the pedal to the metal.

As the Compass has reported, from Feb. 15 to May 30, six people died as a result of injuries sustained in auto accidents – just one short of the total number of road-related fatalities in all of 2017. Last weekend, three serious collisions sent several people to the hospital, including two in critical condition.

In 2015, Cayman had a traffic fatality rate of 18 per 100,000 people – far above the rate of Great Britain (3.8) or the United States (10.9), even though people in those locales log many more miles on roads with much higher speed limits.

And while traffic deaths tend to generate the largest headlines, the more relevant statistic is the number of overall traffic accidents. These statistics are both revealing and troubling:

Over the past two years, the number of traffic accidents in Cayman DOUBLED – 2,725 in 2017, up from 1,295 collisions the previous year. No single cause is readily identifiable.

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Some attribute the increase to variables such as an increase in the number of cars on the road, the number of ongoing construction projects, declining standards in vehicle conditions, antisocial driver behavior, etc.

What we do know is that far too many serious accidents in Cayman share several common factors, almost as if following a template or a script: A single car, an inebriated driver, a high rate of speed, early in the morning … colliding with a tree, wall, pole or piece of heavy equipment – generally, something large that does not move – and involving, sometimes, an unfortunate pedestrian.

This crisis in public safety demands a sustained effort and serious attention, not cosmetic measures fueled by litanies of commissions, panels, advisory groups or awareness campaigns.

We would advocate for a holistic examination of all aspects of Cayman’s automotive environment, including drivers, vehicles, roadways, speed limits, sanctions and the judiciary – to name a few.

It would not be untoward for every driver on the island to be called in for a rigorous drivers licensing “re-test,” including driving proficiency and knowledge of local traffic regulations. We simply can never have safe streets populated with unsafe drivers.

The police crackdown, announced by Commissioner Byrne, must identify unroadworthy vehicles that lack government inspection certificates (and especially, unroadworthy vehicles that nevertheless do have those certificates).

The courts, of course, are an integral part of keeping order on our roads. How can we pretend to be serious about traffic offenses if we do not address jams in the judicial system that allow cases to fester for years? (The poster child for this is the trial of top immigration official Gary Wong, stemming from an incident that took place in December 2013 – nearly a half-decade ago.)

Police Commissioner Byrne also has asked lawmakers to enact tougher penalties for traffic offenses. He knows far more about this than we do, but we would simply note that the most strict or stringent legislation on the books will be of little value if traffic laws are not enforced consistently year-round. Seasonal or holiday “crackdowns” are public relations solutions to what is an all-the-time serious problem.

In short, officials must do everything in their power to get drivers who cannot drive, or do drive, but drunk or recklessly, off Cayman’s roadways.

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