Cayman lawmakers are hoping that recently approved changes to traffic rules will finally sort out how many vehicles are on the islands, how many of them are being legally driven and how many are on the roads unlawfully.
Keeping track of vehicles, particularly on Grand Cayman, has proved a daunting task for the Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing over the past two decades – particularly following the destruction caused by 2004’s Hurricane Ivan.
A government audit released to the Cayman Compass last year found DVDL records indicated that more than 74,000 vehicles were on the department register in mid-2015 and more than 63,500 drivers’ licenses were recorded. Of the more than 74,000 vehicle registrations, just more than half related to vehicles with expired tags or those for which the department had no licensing details at all, the Internal Audit Service reported.
More than 25,000 vehicles had “expired” registrations, some of them which had not been updated since the 1980s and 1990s. Thousands of those vehicles on the department’s records expired after Hurricane Ivan struck the islands in 2004, rendering a large number of cars inoperable.
The introduction of a new electronic vehicle registration system, including the use of electronic license tags last year, was partly done to help the beleaguered department sort out the issue. However, the issuance of electronic tags is still ongoing and thousands of the new license plates remain at the DVDL facility on Crewe Road awaiting retrieval by vehicle owners.
Planning Minister Joey Hew said in late June that the government is now in the process of installing electronic antennas for the electronic vehicle registration system which will ensure any vehicle being driven is “up-to-date” with licensing, registration and insurance.
For example, while the current Traffic Law requires individuals to maintain insurance on their cars, the current system requires the DVDL to update that information manually, which it does about once a month.
“This is a tedious, but necessary process … one that allows for another one of these loopholes,” Minister Hew said.
Currently, there is nothing to prevent drivers from going to the DVDL with a cover note, showing they have obtained insurance, receiving a vehicle registration and then canceling the insurance, allowing them to drive without insurance for at least a short period.
The electronic licensing system will notify the DVDL immediately, via use of the radio antenna transmitters, if a vehicle is being operated without insurance or registration and “government can be informed of persons driving illegally,” Mr. Hew said.
Changes approved as part of the Traffic Law amendments clear the way for the electronic monitoring devices to be used on Cayman’s roads.
Another problem the law seeks to deal with is the accumulation of vehicles with expired tags that are left around the islands and eventually become eyesores if the owners do not repair them.
The new law provides an “amnesty period” of about six months that allows owners to turn in license plates for vehicles that have not been registered for more than a year without paying the standard fee – $25 – for doing so.
Going forward, vehicles that are kept without a current license plate will only accumulate registration fees for a year. After that, the DVDL director now has the power to cancel or suspend the registration. Once the registrations are suspended, DVDL officials will know if those vehicles continue to be operated.
“The government will have a better handle on the total number of vehicles we have on island … the total number of vehicles we have registered and on the road and how many vehicles we have that are not registered, but are still on the road,” Mr. Hew said.
Not knowing those registration figures over an extended number of years means Cayman government coffers could have lost out on millions of dollars in tax revenue. Internal auditors reported last year that the Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing had assessed, but not collected, about $14.9 million in vehicle registrations and unpaid drivers’ license fees over a period of years. Almost all of that amount, about $14 million, was owed in vehicle registration fees.
In its response to the audit, DVDL management stated it had a responsibility to inform vehicle owners in advance that their registrations or licenses were being terminated and that its present resources simply do not allow for that. Attempts to use the government’s debt recovery unit to collect unpaid registration fees also failed because of lack of staff.