Ministry stalled by traffic law
(CNS): The works ministry has said that a number of what it described as “very complex legal issues” are behind the delay in the implementation of the new traffic law and in particular access to the highway for electric cars. In a press release Wednesday ministry officials said that the risk of electric shock to emergency services personnel at a traffic accident involving electric cars, how to categorise the low speed electric vehicles and other issues have delayed the regulations which are required to accompany the law before it can be implemented. More than seven months after the bill was passed the ministry is still wrestling with the rules to go with it.
The Ministry of District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture (DAWL&A) said that writing the regulations involved “a multi-department approach” that has included the attorney general, the legal department, the Department of Vehicle and Drivers' Licensing (DVDL) and the DAWL&A ministry. In addition, the ministry claimed the regulations had to be researched by looking at other jurisdictions, such as United States of America, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean, to examine electric vehicle legislation.
“The Regulations are a complex set of documents consisting of 12 separate sections on the protocols and procedures that interpret the law,” said the minister with responsibility, Juliana O’Connor-Connolly. “These range from fines, speed limits, testing of drivers and vehicles and the road code.”
Officials claimed that registration and licensing of electric vehicles was an intricate process and required extensive research on many issues, including the proper classification of vehicles and arriving at a universal, scientific formula to accurately record the kilowatts per hour for the engine output, rather than the usual recording in horse power or cubic centimeters for combustible engines.
Director of DVDL David Dixon said proper classification was just one of the issues as public safety has also been of concern.
“Some electric cars have a different mechanical architecture to the typical vehicle with a combustion engine; therefore, a new protocol by our first responders had to take into consideration when dealing with accident,” he added. “Electric shock is an area of particular concern for responders. Today’s popular hybrids include batteries that surge with 500 volts of electricity, which is enough to cause serious injury or death.
“Though most cabling for such systems is colored orange for easy discovery, the practice isn’t followed by all manufacturers. The batteries’ location, typically in the trunk, might also be unknown to responders. Another area of concern is fire. So while the demand for hybrid and electric vehicles continues to grow, it’s important for first responders to understand what informational resources are available to us and it is our job to ensure that everything falls in line,” the department official explained.
There is, however, no evidence of research showing emergency personnel have ever been seriously injured or electrocuted at a crash site and most research points to electric vehicles being no more dangerous than regular cars and even likely to be safer. Car manufacturers generally protect batteries from becoming breached by a collision by putting them near, under or behind rear seat areas, enclosed in tough metal boxes. Packs are designed to automatically disconnect the battery if a collision is severe enough to deploy the airbags or trip the crash sensor. The high voltage is also shut down as soon as the ignition is turned off.
The ministry said that aside from the new safety issues the categories of electric vehicles have also posed challenges for officials in the regulations, which will allow electric vehicles capable of exceeding 30 miles per hour to be registered and licensed alongside regular vehicles but those not capable of that speed classified as "special electric vehicle".
Under Part 5 of the law, these special electric vehicles (SEVs) can only be used in school zones or where the speed zone is less than 30 miles per hour. This is because neighborhood electric vehicles, as they are also known, were not designed for highway use but for campuses, communities and neighbourhoods where the speed limit is less than 30 miles per hour. Some of these types of cars do not have crash protection or side impact bars and in some instances do not have doors.
SEVs operating in speed zones of 40 or 50 miles per hour may be committing an offence of obstructing traffic as the law states that it is the duty of every driver to avoid obstructing others if they are allowed on the highway.
The minister said the department was aware that some members of the public are “anxious to purchase” electrical cars and as a result the “technocrats are working hard to ensure that all of the regulations are done properly and in a timely manner.”
O’Connor-Connolly said the ministry had communicated over the years to various car dealers in Cayman that a fully electric vehicle could not be registered and licensed due to the technical components of the vehicles.
“Both the ministry and department have periodically issued updates on the progress of the legislation so that no one would prematurely import the vehicles that could not be licensed as yet,” she said, taking aim at a local dealer who has been campaigning for the use of electric cars in Cayman for almost a decade and who has already imported several vehicles.
John Felder, who is the islands' exclusive electric car dealer, has a list of clients anticipating the implementation of the law and is ready to install solar powered charging stations but it has been a long wait. Felder told CNS recently that he continues to live in hope that eventually Cayman will being driving towards a greener lifestyle. He currently has invested more than $100,000 in cars that he cannot yet sell.
Felder may have to wait several more weeks for the regulations, as the minister confirmed there is still more work to do on one of the 12 sections of the regulations and the new road code has not yet been completed. “My team and I are striving for the implementation of the law and regulations as soon as possible. I am committed to see this project through,” O’Connor Connolly promised.
The Motor Vehicle Insurance law has already been amended to accommodate insurance for electric vehicles but commencement of the actual traffic law can only be issued after the Traffic Regulations have been completed and then considered and approved by Cabinet.
Once in place, however, government was planning a law to reduce import duties on hybrid and fully electric vehicles in an effort to promote lower gas costs and a greener, cleaner environment, the minister said.
The decision was made to completely overhaul the traffic law to facilitate electric cars and a number of other updates. A long time in the works, it was eventually passed in the Legislative Assembly in November and contains other new provisions, such as a ban on car clampers and using cell phones without a hands free device while driving.
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