Sifting through burned-out wreckage, Traffic Police officers in the North
continue their painstaking investigation into the horrific accident that claimed
the lives of eight members of a single family this week.
The vehicle they
were travelling in experienced catastrophic brake failure as they drove along a
steep, winding road just outside Tiberias. As the minivan picked up
uncontrollable speed, the parents made a desperate call to police, but minutes
later the Mitsubishi careened off the road into a 30-meter drop, flipping over
and bursting into flames.
A family that was much admired and loved in the
Bar Yochai and Migdal Ha’emek communities had been erased, leaving relatives and
friends in shock.
Parents Rafi and Yehudit Atias, both 42, died in the
accident along with children Avia, 17; twins Shimon and Elyshav, 16; Shira, 11;
Tair, 9; and Noa, 5.
No one should have been able to survive such a
crash, yet somehow seven-year-old girl Rahel did, after she was flung out the
window of the vehicle before it was engulfed in flames.
Israelis shed a
collective tear for this sole survivor and orphan. She now faces the unbearable
burden of starting a new life without her family.
Despite the pain and
grief, road safety professionals have begun asking difficult questions about the
crash. They are guided by the principle that out of every tragic road accident,
future collisions can be prevented and lives can be saved if the right lessons
In fact, that was the principle that guided Avi Naor, a
one-time high-flying executive, to found the influential Or Yarok (Green Light)
traffic safety institute in the late 1990s after losing his son, Ran, in a road
“Accidents always happen. We can’t sterilize the road,” Naor
told The Jerusalem Post. “But when the state does things correctly, like
installing road safety infrastructure and deploying Traffic Police who check on
vital car functions, then when accidents occur they are surrounded by safety
layers that prevent them from turning into death sentences,” he said. “If
the right steps are taken, accidents don’t have to end in deaths,” Naor
Shmuel Aboav, CEO of Or Yarok, said two lines of inquiry should
now follow the accident.
“First, there is the police investigation, which
examines who is guilty, who broke the law and who, if anyone, should stand
trial,” he said. But alongside the standard police check, a team of independent
professionals, who are experts in various fields of road safety, should also
investigate fatal crashes to draw conclusions for the future, he
“Three things need to be checked in this accident. Firstly, why
did the railing on the roadside not prevent the vehicle from flipping off it and
falling? Secondly, why did the brake system not work after just three months of
the van passing its annual test? Thirdly, perhaps it is time to teach drivers
what to do in emergencies when brakes fail,” Aboav said.
Aboav said that
drivers believe that if their car passes the annual test, their brakes are in
good condition. “If the tests don’t give drivers information about the state of
their brake linings, perhaps drivers need to be informed of that,” he
The police investigation into the crash is indeed focused on the
condition of the brake linings. Investigators said they found the brakes to be
“very eroded,” adding that this formed the center of the investigation into what
The second investigation should enable the public to “learn from this, rather than find guilty parties. This is
the thinking that should guide us,” Aboav said.
He called on the
Transport Ministry and the second government body responsible for preventing
accidents, the Road Safety Authority, to lead the parallel
Transport Minister Yaakov Katz has vowed to do just that
following this week’s accident, saying, “We will learn lessons from this
terrible disaster.” He added that “it happened specifically during a year when
there was a dramatic fall in the number of accidents.”
A check with the
Traffic Police confirmed Katz’s claims. So far this year, 116 people were killed
in accidents prior to the tragic crash. In 2011, there were 26 more casualties –
142 total – between January and May.
One of the reasons for the decrease
in casualties could be the 500 Traffic Police inspectors who pull over vehicles
for safety checks across the road network every day.
In 2011, 30,000 cars
were taken off the road after defective technical components were found in the
checks. Out of those, 16,000 cars lost their vehicle licenses due to severe
failures, such as defects in the steering, car frame and brakes.
have 30,000 cars taken off the road, this means there are tens of thousands of
additional cars out there with safety failures. People who fail to maintain
their vehicles aren’t doing it on purpose; They don’t want to commit
suicide. They just don’t know,” Aboav said.
But auto mechanics are
supposed to know better, and here lies part of the problem. There are 2,000
unlicensed garages in Israel which have eluded state monitoring. They often sell
defective automobile parts, many of them smuggled in from the West Bank from
wrecked car that are dumped there.
“These parts end up in illegal
garages, which lure drivers with low prices,” Aboav said. “Some people don’t
know that in the event of an accident, their car can turn into cardboard instead
of saving them.”
A State Comptroller’s report from 2011 found alarming
numbers of garages – 879 – that are only checked by the state every two to five
years, while a further 189 garages are checked by safety inspectors every five
to 10 years.
“The answer is to only go to a licensed garage, which has a
certificate from the Transportation Ministry,” said Aboav. “You wouldn’t
go to a unlicensed doctor or attorney, and you wouldn’t send your kid to an
illegal school. An unlicensed garage can be the most dangerous thing.”