Proposed changes to Cayman’s Traffic Law would clear the way for things like speed cameras, facilitate police seizures of illegally operated motorbikes and seek to fine drivers up to $10,000 for not using electronic license plates.

The Traffic [Amendment] Bill, 2018 – representing the first significant round of changes to Cayman’s road rules since 2011 – will be considered by lawmakers during the upcoming meeting of the Legislative Assembly which starts June 27.

Among the changes, the bill seeks to put the onus on drivers who are recorded by devices like speed cameras or red-light cameras to prove their innocence, rather than having the typical presumption of innocence in favor of the defendant.

“The owner of the vehicle is presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to be guilty of the [traffic] offense,” the amendment bill states in relation to evidence gathered by electronic recording devices.

Cayman currently uses closed circuit television cameras to monitor certain public rights of way and included with those devices are automatic number plate readers or ANPR cameras. However, the territory has never implemented speed cameras, which capture speed limit violators, or devices that take pictures of motorists who run through red lights.

The amendment bill would essentially set the legal groundwork for the use of such devices and outlines an extensive set of rules for how data captured by those cameras must be used and stored.

In order to defend oneself against the findings of a traffic camera, the registered owner must prove they were not in possession of the vehicle at the time of the offense or that the owner did not know the vehicle was in possession of another person.

Further proposed changes to the Traffic Law mandate that all legal drivers must have electronic license plates affixed to their vehicles. A driver using a vehicle without an electronic tag, or with a damaged tag, could be fined $10,000 upon conviction if the Traffic Law amendments are approved.

The Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing is still in the process of replacing some 45,000 vehicle license plates with the new electronic tags. The electronic plates can be scanned by hand-held devices used by police or the DVDL to determine whether a vehicle is up-to-date with its licensing and registration.

Motorbikes

Further changes to the Traffic Law seeking to regulate the “careless, reckless or antisocial driving of a motorcycle or moped” are also proposed in the amendment bill.

According to the changes, a police constable would be given specific powers if he or she believes a motorcycle or moped is being operated contrary to the Traffic Law or operated in a manner “likely to cause alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public.”

Those powers include the ability to stop the person operating the vehicle and, if the person does not stop, to charge that person with an offense.

If the constable believes the motorbike that has been stopped could be used in such a reckless manner again, he or she is given the power to seize the vehicle. The bill would also give the constable the power to search a premises where he or she believes a recklessly operated motorbike is being kept upon “reasonable suspicion” the vehicle is being kept there. The search powers do not extend to a private home.

Refusing to stop a motorcycle or moped upon the orders of a constable can result in a $2,500 fine upon conviction.

The amendment bill also sets out detailed rules for the retrieval of an illegally operated motorbike after it has been seized and placed in police impound.

Police concerns

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has backed changes to local traffic laws that would make it easier to seize and destroy motorbikes that are not street legal.

Police Commissioner Derek Byrne told reporters in April that police were 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 police investigations ultimately led to no prosecution. The main difficulty in those cases, according to records obtained by the Compass, is that police could not formally identify the motorbike driver.