Gone are the days of a congestion-free Cayman.
Traffic jams in every direction appear to be the new norm, rather than an exception, on local roads and it is taking a toll not just on road users but also on those charged with keeping law and order.
“We are a small community. We are a growing community. There is … quite an influx of cars here. From my last calculation, I believe we have over 42,000 registered cars here on island, and you will appreciate this [places] quite a demand on the [police] in terms of ensuring proper regulation on the street,” said Inspector Dwayne Jones, head of the RCIPS Traffic and Roads Policing Unit.
Jones recently took over the unit and it been a shifting of gears for him.
“It has been an experience. I’m coming from other areas into the traffic department. Knowing that you are responsible for pretty much all the road-related incidences there’s an inherent burden or inherent, I would say, pressure on me as the head of the department to ensure road safety and to ensure the safety of every individual that is on the street,” he said.
He said a top priority for him, in terms of traffic management, is to make sure that all necessary steps are taken to make the roadway safe and adequate for commuters, so “that at least people can go about their lawful business in a free and flowing way”, he said.
Collisions contribute to congestion
However, free-flowing streets seem to be a thing of the past, especially during morning, lunchtime and evening rush hours with the congestion, in part, being driven by an increasing number of vehicles, fuelled by a rapid boost in population.
That population growth also presents a challenge on local roads, Jones said.
“The reality is that we are a diverse community and we have adopted various driving practices. ‘Cause you have individuals from various nationalities living here and, unfortunately, some bad driving practices come with some of them,” he said.
In some cases, he said, Cayman is the first place that some drivers have encountered roundabouts and, as a result, they have no clue how to properly negotiate those traffic circles.
This, he said, results in the frequency of accidents occurring on the roundabouts.
“Frequently you will see some of these bad driving practices exhibited on the road. From a police perspective, obviously we have the mandate to ensure that we not only enforce but educate as well, because that is a primary aspect of it. So, we try to educate… prosecute and educate at the same time and hopefully our impact will reduce the frequency of it, but on a broader scale motorists have to be more informed,” Jones said.
He said motorists have to take ownership of their responsibilities, especially when they are new to the island.
“If you’re new to the island and you happen to own a motor vehicle, then obviously you need to be aware of what is required of you and not just jump in the vehicle and drive because every other motor vehicle, every individual that you encounter, there is a duty, a level of care and responsibility towards those individuals,” he said.
As Cayman’s once free-flowing thoroughfares become clogged arteries, Jones said it’s not only the result of more vehicles.
Collisions, he said, also contribute significantly.
“Part of the problem is that motorists need to be a little bit more responsible on the roadway. The high frequency of accidents is a clear indication that motorists are not properly utilising the roadway.”
Jones said many collisions are caused by negligence and excessive manoeuvring of vehicles.
Speeding is a factor as well.
“Our motorists need to show more due care on the road primarily, especially when you are in a bumper-to-bumper situation,” he said.
He added that motorists in traffic tend to use their cellphones and that too leads to collisions.
“Once there is an accident, then obviously it will cause inconvenience the other road users. So, these are some of the situations that occurr on a daily basis where motorists need to (be a) little bit more alert whilst manoeuvring their vehicle,” Jones said.
Demand for resources
Jones said with the traffic situation continuing there is a strain on his resources.
The unit is staffed by 20 people, of which 16 officers are deployed on the street on a regular basis.
He expects a boost in resources to help deal with the demands his unit faces daily.
“There is always a need for more resources and unfortunately we do not operate on a 24-hour basis now because of the lack of resources. The ccommissioner has assured me that he intends to increase the department. So hopefully from his end, things will [be expedited] and as soon as we get those resources, then obviously we will have a greater police presence out there from a traffic perspective,” Jones said. He said 2019 was a record year in terms of prosecutions by his unit which is not something he is pleased about.
A total of 6,108 traffic offences were recorded in the Summary Court last year. More than 3,056 individuals were prosecuted for excessive speeding and nine people lost their lives in traffic incidents.
Jones said those stats have no place in a small community like Cayman.
“It is rather unfortunate that because of the negligence of drivers, we’re losing so many lives here in Cayman as a result of road collision,” he said, noting that nine people died last year as a result of collisions.
“Unfortunately, two thirds of those individuals did not reach the age of 36. They were young people. We are losing our young people. We have to take due care in how we manoeuvre and be obedient to the road regulations. We cannot continue in this form by any means.”
Jones said his team has recorded speeds as high as 107 miles per hour – more than double the highest speed limit on the island.
“Where are we flying to? Where are we going? Slow down, because the life you save might just be your own. Slow down; think not just about yourself but think about every other road user. slow down. Be patient, obey the road codes and you’ll get where you want to go safely,” Jones advised.
Traffic is an issue that, Jones said, has the attention of those in authority and a multi-agency approach is being taken to find a solution to the continuing congestion.
He said a traffic-management panel, which comprises the RCIPS, National Roads Authority, the Ministry of Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure, and the Department of Vehicles and Drivers’ Licensing, has been established to find a way forward on the issue.
“We meet once a month and we look at traffic-related issues and the impact as it relates to the communities. We make some suggestions and try to find solutions to some of these problems,” he said.
Jones pointed to the traffic changes implemented at the Red Bay roundabout as an example of one of the solutions that has been providing some relief for motorists.
“We were there, and we looked at it [traffic] from a holistic perspective and that’s where the adjustment came in and it seems to be very effective as we stand now, because the flow of traffic is moving quite nicely in that area,” he said.
Jones said a collective effort, not just from a police perspective, but also from a community perspective, is needed to address traffic.
“In terms of the traffic-management panel we look at these issues and see how best we can draft up a plan that will work holistically for everybody,” he added.