Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna says the new road safety reforms are inspired by too many tragedies.
People were sick and tired of young ones dying on Rarotonga roads because of drinking and driving, speeding and not wearing helmets.
They were demanding action and the passing of the Transport Amendment Act 2020 was the action they deserved.
“The challenge posed at the time was accepted, and the result was the bill before this house,” the Prime Minister said.
The final momentum for the law change came from the deaths of 14-year-old Mona Ioane Jr and Amit Kumar in a head-on smash. Neither was wearing a helmet.
At the time of his announcement of proposed changes to the legislation in January, it was set to be the most important bill to be tabled at this year’s first Parliamentary sitting on Wednesday.
But due to the global Covid-19 pandemic and the urgency to make sure the country’s response plan was firmly in place, it was relegated further down the priority list.
The new law lowers the legal breath alcohol limit from 400mcg to 250mcg, bans the use of mobile phones and earphones, and makes helmets compulsory for all motorbike users.
There was a huge amount of public support for lowering the legal drink driving limit, with some suggesting a zero tolerance approach would be better still. “Drinking and driving do not go together, that was the clear opinion of our people,” Puna said.
But making helmets compulsory for all motorbike users was met with debate.
Cabinet Minister George Angene threw his support behind lowering the drink-drive limit, but pleaded with government to reconsider the helmet law, a sentiment shared by Matavera MP Vaitoti Tupa.
The law requiring 16 to 25-year-olds to wear helmets was sufficient, he said. “Why should we be punished for the mistakes of others? I speak for my constituency when I say we need to talk more with our people about this.”
But the Prime Minister reiterated that helmets would have saved lives in almost all of the 24 fatalities on Rarotonga roads in the last five years.
Former Crown Counsel and Government Legislative Draftsman Paul Lynch said this simple act will save six lives every year on Rarotonga.
“All parents can breathe a sigh of relief; now we can work on the binge drink-drinking culture here,” he said.
The compulsory helmet law will not take effect for a minimum of three months from the date of passing due to the need to acquire certified stock, Puna said.
With the Covid-19 crisis, that could mean an extension of five to six months before it becomes law.