Crown Law has commenced work on the draft New Transport Amendment Bill to include proposed changes to road safety legislation, with a ban on the use mobile phones and headphones while driving and compulsory use of helmets the first changes to be rolled out.
Other proposed changes will be implemented in quick succession especially in regards to the decrease in the legal breath alcohol limit from 400mcg to 250mcg in line with those in New Zealand and Australia.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna wants swift action and the amendments ready to be presented at the March sitting of Parliament.
New sections will be added to the bill including 30A: Ban on using mobile phones while driving and 30B: Ban on wearing headphones while driving.
Section 86A (1) and (2) will be inserted in relation to failing to comply with motorcycle safety helmets requirements.
The majority of the proposed changes are aimed at motorbike drivers.
Safety helmets for example, will be compulsory for all on Rarotonga.
Cook Islands Police want blanket application of the new law, including cyclists and those on trikes and quad bikes.
The Prime Minister is supporting a recommended grace period of three months before this law kicks in.
Rarotonga suffers an estimated five fatalities a year on average, most are alcohol-related and claiming lives below 36 years of age.
Head injuries as a result of the absence of helmets further pushes the priority for change.
While education programmes and awareness-building among the youth remain key for the future, police are now aligned with a strong political will to force a change in the attitude and behaviour of drivers.
Police Commissioner Maara Tetava said: “Police will exercise more control over the supervision of driving, especially motorcyclists. The penalties will get tougher too.”
Alcohol and driving are two activities that police want to separate from current behaviour. Alcohol is at the crux of Rarotonga’s road deaths and police have positioned themselves in favour of a zero limit to be enacted, this year.
Next month however, the government looks set to table alcohol limits that are consistent with New Zealand and Australia, as a more immediate step to stem the tragedies.
“This is just the beginning and by no means the end. We have to persevere,” the Prime Minister said to those gathered around the Cabinet table of interested stakeholders and parties.
He said he would continue to promote change by talking with other stakeholders, like helmet importers and dealers and hospitality industry reps.
Regarding the New Transport Amendment Bill 2020, Danny Mataroa, the newly- appointed president of the Cook Islands Road Safety Council said: “If you need to make a suggestion to change, I would recommend that you write a signed letter to your Member of Parliament to voice your change in Parliament during the session. e.g. if you feel that this law is not practical in Palmerston or Nassau or Rakahanga then you need to write your recommendation to your Member of Parliament to voice in the Parliament meeting when the topic comes up”.