Graham Walker, guest columnist
When asked about the driving standards in Cayman I always ask what the questioner personally believes. I have yet to receive a positive response. It is always one of deep concern.
There are those who will not drive at night either towards West Bay or East End as it is considered to be too dangerous. There are those who have children with a full licence but will not let them drive in Cayman as the parent or the young adult believes it is too scary. That includes one young man who was quite happy to climb the hundred foot masts on a sailing ship but, for him, driving in Cayman is a no-no.
In Cayman, we have traffic lights and roundabouts that are completely unknown to many new residents.
It is even possible to arrive as a non-driver, live in Cayman Brac, drive there and obtain a full Caymanian licence. On finding a better job in Grand Cayman, these drivers are more than puzzled by traffic lights and worst of all, roundabouts, especially those with three lanes.
Every time I drive, I see rules being broken. The most common errors and discourtesies include:
The situation in Cayman with drivers having their headlights on full beam when driving in a built-up area with street lighting at night becomes worse each day. When a vehicle is approaching you with headlights on high, you can’t see because of the glare. So what can be done?
Education is the first step. Many drivers coming to Cayman with a licence from another country do not know what the small blue light on the instrument panel indicates.
Enforcement is the next step. When the police give a driver a ticket for putting innocent people’s lives at risk it will start to get through to drivers that it is not just a slap on the wrist. The vehicle is being driven dangerously and the driver should be dealt with accordingly.
Statistically it is just a matter of time before there is a fatal accident, possibly involving pedestrians.
Not using traffic indicators
Using indicators is a courtesy to other drivers. Not knowing what the car ahead of you intends to do causes confusion– and confusion leads to accidents. This can be easily seen when a car suddenly swerves and changes direction.
We have all waited at a traffic junction intending to enter the traffic flow. Cars approaching from the right are apparently planning to pass in front of you so you wait patiently. Then the inconsiderate driver, without using his indicators, turns off before he reaches you. If he had used his indicators one could have moved off much earlier.
Now here is another serious caution. If you are waiting at a ‘T’ junction looking to the right, and waiting and waiting, and then, glory be, a gap appears so you proceed into the traffic flow. Before moving please, please check for pedestrians from your left, intending to walk in front of what they see as your stationary car.
This is when a car follows another in front but at a ridiculously close distance. If the first car has to stop or slow down the idiot driving the second car has to do an emergency stop to avoid hitting the innocent car. No one these days takes any regard to the ‘two-second rule’. This should be the minimum time between cars.
I saw a car the other day, driving behind another at a dangerously close distance. The first car could not do anything because of the crowded traffic. I could not believe my eyes as the car in front was a police car.
On another occasion, I had a woman shaking her fist at me because I was driving too slowly for her. She was in a hurry and wanted me to ignore the speed limits.
Pedestrians wandering across the road is another habit to tighten up on. I believe we have probably lost the battle with little chance of changing the present situation in less than 10 years.
Pedestrians, both residents and tourists, cross the road without looking. They are too busy on their smartphones. Sometimes they are at a crossing but often they just amble across the road in the vicinity of the crossing. If you do not believe this, check on Harbour Drive and the junction with Fort Street.
When someone on foot approaches a pedestrian crossing they should look left, right and left again. If there are no vehicles approaching, the pedestrian should walk briskly onto the crossing to reach the opposite side. If there is traffic coming they must wait until it is clear.
The driving population in Cayman
The total population living in these islands is around 60.000, the majority of whom are of driving age. These people come from an incredible number of countries. Over 150 different nationalities hold Caymanian driving licences. They bring their somewhat-different driving habits with them. Driving standards in many countries differ, as do road layouts, including what side of the road people are used to driving on.
There is no doubt in my mind that all drivers coming to the Cayman Islands should be required to take a full driving test which is more rigorous and longer than the present brief test.
Traffic congestion leads to carelessness
In the same way as we can see that there could be too many people living on this small island, it is obvious that there are too many vehicles. Whether each family member or jobholder should be permitted to have a vehicle must be left to the politicians.
I do know that drivers find the congestion frustrating and this leads to careless driving.
The government is making strides to ease congestion by improving roundabouts and road junctions on the major roads. Beyond the current plans, one wonders if consideration has been given to making some roads with lanes that have different directional flow in the morning and evening rush hours.
This would require additional traffic lights and these are expensive. But if we are to reduce accidents and save lives, then there should be no hesitation.
The cost to the country of each fatality is unbelievable.
* Graham Walker is a veteran driving instructor and author of the road safety manual, ‘Drive Safely in Cayman’