EDITORIAL – A failing grade for Cayman’s drivers’ tests

The DVDL is currently scheduling Drivers’ licence tests for February and March. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Thirty minutes. Forty questions – of which you must answer 32 or more correctly. Your study guide: an 80-plus page manual stuffed with motorway minutiae.

No, this isn’t a new “Survivor-style” game show. It’s the Cayman Islands written drivers’ license exam. And it is little wonder so many people fail it on their first (or second, or third or subsequent) try.

As the Compass reported last week, only 3,599 of the 6,851 written drivers’ license exams administered last year resulted in a passing grade, according to the Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing records. That pass rate (52.5 percent) is fairly typical of the past decade’s results. Since 2007, the pass rate has never exceeded 61 percent. In fact, it has been known to be less than half.

And no wonder. As anyone who has endured the experience well knows, the test questions may cover anything from the optimum tread depth of a trailer tire (one millimeter across the circumference and 75 percent of its breadth, for those of you who are measuring) to the proper way to overtake a horse on the roadway (pro tip: leave plenty of room and lay off the horn, as the noise could startle the beast).

Some of the questions we have encountered are so arcane, a more suspicious person might wonder whether exam administrators scour The Road Code and traffic law’s dense legalese with the express purpose of catching would-be drivers out for their ignorance of even the most obscure and specialized requirements.

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We don’t know if the DVDL considers the test to be more than a decades-old joke, but we can assure them, the public is not laughing. With this kind of failure rate – and the presence of outlandish, irrelevant questions – surely someone exists within the agency who is not asleep at the proverbial wheel.

The problem begins with the Code itself, which could use an editor’s merciless pen (better yet, a sharp pair of scissors). The hefty tome is so loaded down with information it is all but impossible for drivers to identify the most important rules and guidelines. Case in point: no fewer than 10 pages are specifically dedicated to a multitude of traffic signs, signals and road markings, the likes of which have rarely (if ever) been seen on Cayman roads. Hieroglyphics are easier to translate.

Even so, anyone sitting for the drivers’ exam is expected to study this arcane symbolism – memorizing mysterious symbols for hump bridges, side winds, hidden dips and double bends with the focus and dedication of a Renaissance scholar poring over the great works of the ancient Romans and Greeks.

At the same time, they are expected to develop expertise in bicycle lighting and equipment, steering wheel grippage (“Avoid having the steering wheel slide through the palms of your hands when negotiating or turning corners,” the document warns), and rules for rights of way in any conceivable combination of road layout and vehicles (even though we all know that in Cayman, the boldest – or least attentive – driver usually goes first).

Truly, it is a miracle that anyone passes the written exam, at all.

Anyone who has spent more than a moment behind the wheel here knows that the gap between traffic “theory” and traffic “fact” can be vast, indeed – larger even than the 75 feet or six car lengths it requires to stop safely from a speed of 30 miles per hour.

Here’s an idea: Simplify the entire thing.

Give would-be drivers a Top 10 – even a Top 15 or Top 20 – list of “rules and regs” they absolutely must understand and obey. We venture to guess that would lead to better passing rates (and safer roads) than this indigestible, incomprehensible, unacceptable mess.

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  1. One rule that most people stop using, is the one where you indicate to turn left or right. The other one is where people turn left from the inside lane to cross vehicles already in the the left lane on the AL Thompson roundabout (suicidal). I also enjoy people not turning in the left lane going through South Sound but instead turning left in the hurley roundabout to go to South Sound. Just brightens my day.