Cook Islands Police media liaison officer Trevor Pitt says there were 23 accidents in October and exactly the same number in September.
Fifteen of the October accidents resulted in prosecutions in the Avarua High Court, while the remainder are still under police investigation.
Motor vehicle accidents often see those responsible facing hefty fines, and sometimes even jail. Some of those involved also suffer serious injuries and the prospect of legal action against them.
The statistics suggest that fines are not deterring motorcyclists and drivers from offending. Fifteen serious cases have appeared before the courts this month, most involving alcohol or careless driving. And that, Pitt says, is worrying.
Nine defendants were charged with excess breath or blood alcohol, while six faced charges of careless driving and careless driving causing bodily injury.
“The larger share of prosecution cases before the court concerning driving, are alcohol-related,” says Pitt.
“There’s no disputing the level of abuse that is impacting driving.
“These drink-drivers are being prosecuted mainly due to their involvement in motor vehicle crashes.
“A considerable amount of money is being spent on excess blood alcohol tests.”.
An alcohol blood test costs $150, and after conviction and sentencing, offenders are ordered to pay the cost of the medical analysis, along with a fine and court costs, Pitt says.
The data on motor vehicle accidents shows that crashes are occurring mostly during daylight hours and the largest number are happening in the Te Au O Tonga district.
Locals can often being heard criticising the driving of tourists and visitors. However, of the 15 driving-related cases that have appeared in the Avarua Court this month, only one involved a non-resident. He not only paid a hefty fine but was faced with a large hospital bill for treatment of his wife who was injured when the pair crashed their bike.
Pitt says it is time locals took responsibility for their driving, and stopped placing the blame on visitors.
“In terms of driving felonies and infringements it is mostly local residents that are offending - drink-driving prosecutions in particular.
“The messages are not getting through about alcohol, speeding, and the helmet law. The culture of driving is very poor in the Cook Islands.
“On the whole, visitors tend to retain the behaviour of their home countries - although there are obviously lapses due to the misconception that Rarotonga is a sleepy little paradise and therefore safe. “It is not safe.”
Pitt says the road accident statistics show this clearly.
“Our road system carries a lot of risks you won’t find in larger countries, and there is always a question of how far the emphasis should be on preventive measures or penalties, to try and change the mindsets (of drivers) and therefore the driving culture.”
He says targeting younger people through the compulsory motorcycle safety helmet requirement was the government’s way of starting road safety education and awareness early.
“Those who have learned to drive in New Zealand or Australia while teenagers will appreciate the (skills) demanded from them to use the roads, including high-speed motorways.
“Learning to drive in the Cook Islands is a different environment altogether that does not promote the same level of defensive driving.
“It does not make sense that New Zealand or Australia has far more stringent compliance with driving than the Cook Islands, including controls like speed cameras, seat belts, mobile phone use etc.
“Our roads are statistically classified as more dangerous, but there are less stringent requirements and a slack attitude.
“The police service is up against a very broad road culture of poor attitudes and a lack of respect for the risks and for other users, especially on the weekends.”
A Fiji national of Indian descent died at the Rarotonga hospital on Saturday night after crashing his motorcycle at the seawall in Nikao. Another motorcycle crash in the early hours of last Wednesday morning killed Terry Tauraki, 29.
Police are investigating the accidents, both of which are said to have involved alcohol and speed.
Pitt said the deaths had sent shock waves through the community, and he hoped drivers would slow down, especially with the onset of the rainy season.
“If anyone is breaking the law while driving, they put themselves at risk, and everyone else on the road.