Conference: Create road safety council

Perhaps the most important thing that may come out of last week’s Road Safety Week conference, sponsored by the National Roads Authority, was the idea of establishing a Road Safety Council in Cayman.

“I’m hoping it can have a huge impact,” said Marion Pandohie, transportation planner for the NRA. As envisioned, she said, it would be a “nice overarching council” that could help coordinate safety efforts with multiple agencies, including the police and emergency services.

Road safety expert Mike Dreznes who headed the conference, said he hopes Joey Hew, minister of commerce, planning and infrastructure, would head the council as its chairman. “It would be good visually,” he said.

Minister Hew did not return calls seeking comment.

Dreznes said it would be important to have an acting body dedicated to improving safety on Cayman’s roads.

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Dreznes, executive vice president of the International Road Federation, was a featured speaker at last year’s conference, the first held on safety by the NRA. He said he was impressed by some of the changes that have taken place in the interim, particularly when it comes to considering issues involving bicyclists and pedestrians.

“There’s a long way to go,” he said, “but there seems to be an effort.”

During the four-day conference, Dreznes talked about such topics as guardrail design, engineering strategies, public education and enforcement of safety laws. The latter of these seemed of special concern to him.

He said “more visible agency enforcement” by police is needed.

During a roundtable discussion that ended the conference, such enforcement was brought up several times. Panelists and those in attendance said Cayman drivers don’t take traffic laws seriously because they have little fear of the consequences of breaking them.

Dreznes suggested not only stricter enforcement but greater penalties.

“Triple the fines,” he said, adding that such a move would get the attention of drivers.

He also proposed establishing a point system for traffic violations, something common in other countries, where each traffic ticket or accident adds points to a driver’s record. At a certain threshold, the driver’s licence is restricted or taken away.

Dreznes said Cayman’s DUI laws are too liberal. The current blood alcohol limit is 0.1% (100mg of alcohol for 100ml of blood), which, he said, “is way too high”. Cutting that number in half might wake people up, he said.

“You’ve got to get it into people’s heads: You can’t even think about drinking and driving in Cayman,” he said.

More than anything, he said, a better focus on safety is needed.

“You need to have a person whose full-time job is road safety,” Dreznes told the conference attendees. “That’s really critical.”

Other topics covered at the conference included safety issues for public transportation and for trucks, strategies for accommodating emergency vehicles, safety as it relates to cycling on the island and the unregulated import of vehicles, primarily from Mexico, that lack safety features such as anti-lock brake systems and airbags.

NRA acting managing director Edward Howard said it was good to get the views of those in other agencies who attended the conference, including police and fire officials

It is important, he said, to have “everybody coming together and really sharing. I learned a lot from hearing the different perspectives”.

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