Fifteen years after the death of his son in a traffic accident, Avi Naor still
dedicates a large part of his time to battle for safer roads. The founder and
chairman of Or Yarok, a nonprofit organization devoted to reducing traffic
accidents on a nationwide level, Naor sees the end-ofyear traffic death tolls as
a national tragedy and a personal affront. In a rare interview with The
, he lamented the increase in deaths that ended a five-year
downward trend and pointed a finger directly at the man he holds responsible,
Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz.
“When you look at
this year’s results – and the results are very harsh, 380 plus deaths, around 32
more than last year – and when you know that there are targets that were
approved by the government, aiming for a 6 percent decrease every year, and
instead of a decrease, there was an increase, you see a shift that goes beyond
mere statistics,” said Naor.
“Things become even worse when we compare
ourselves to other countries which share our targets and see that their numbers
continue to drop and realize that we are the odd ones out.
“When you look
at what we’re doing and the way we’re doing it, it should come as no surprise.
The rise is not because of bad luck or because one big accident altered the
statistics. The rise is a result of many accidents. And when you look into the
details, you find that you can link them to a series of faults.”
those faults include decreasing budgets for the Traffic Police and the National
Road Safety Authority, lack of leadership in the authority, which functioned for
18 months without a director- general, reduced investment in road safety
infrastructure, reductions to airborne evacuation and less road safety
“There is a fundamental principle in governance – there are
ministers and the ministers are responsible for setting policies and seeing them
through. The defense minister is responsible for security; the education
minister is responsible for education and the road safety minister is
responsible for traffic accidents,” said Naor.
ANYONE DRIVING around the
country in recent weeks couldn’t have missed the massive campaign that Or Yarok
has mobilized against Katz. With constant ads on the radio and giant billboards
bearing his name and photo, all accusing him of failure and worse, with
cynically transferring the blame on to the public.
“When it comes to
traffic accidents, the government, the transportation ministers and the police
have succeeded in creating a vicious cycle, where they tell the drivers that
they are at fault, that we are all bad and reckless drivers. We feel guilty and
don’t dare to complain to the government and demand more safety,” said Naor. “We
demand that the transportation and road safety minister commit to remedial
policies, and embrace goals which have been adopted by the government, and do
everything in his power to make sure they are met. In Israel, the minister in
question, to avoid responsibility uses cynical evasion measures, claiming that
since every casualty is a world unto itself, it is immoral to treat them as
statistics and set fatality targets.”
After saying similar things in a
press conference earlier in the week, Naor’s organization suffered a full-on
attack by Katz’s media relations department; his spokesman sent out a press
release accusing Naor and his people of operating out of a desire to topple Katz
and that they were using people’s deaths to score political points.
rejected the claims stating that he had no political aspirations and that a
board of directors, led by him, governed his staff. “I founded the organization
13 years ago and have invested hundreds of millions in it. If I had wanted to go
into politics, I could have done it with far less money,” said Naor, a cofounder
of hi-tech giant Amdocs, who is rumored to have made millions from its sale and
other successful business ventures.
Naor’s fundamental demand is that
Katz realign his priorities. “It used to be that there was a transportation
minister, and he was responsible for the country’s transportation requirements –
trains, planes and automobiles. Since 2006, we have a minister of transportation
and road safety, and he’s also responsible for reducing accidents. The problems
arise when the two goals contradict each other, when the interest of traffic
flow comes at the expense of safety, or the concern for more roads overshadows
OVER THE years, Or Yarok has moved from being an
organization primarily concerned with educating young drivers to being active on
a range of fronts.
With 5,000 volunteers, an established research arm,
annual conferences and ongoing public campaigns, it has become a constant voice
in the country’s continuous battle with road deaths.
“When the National
Road Safety Authority was established, I thought that it would take up much of
the things that we do and that we would be able to scale back operations. Now
that the authority is becoming constantly weaker, I think that we’re going to be
here forever, pushing and providing support and when necessary calling out the
culprits,” said Naor. “Only when we reach a critical mass of people will we be
able to bring about the change that will revolutionize the driving
Naor said that there was no single silver bullet solution to
solve the country’s accident problems and that what was needed was a well
thought out combination of enforcement, deterrence, education, technology,
safety standards, public transportation and advanced infrastructure. “Each
element can contribute to the desperately needed change, the additional
ingredients are foresight and responsibility.”
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