After conducting a collaborative discussion on road safety issues in Jerusalem on Thursday, Irish and Israeli government officials said that they intend to pursue future partnerships in this area, in which the two countries share many similar challenges.

Both Israel and Ireland have made dramatic strides in reducing road fatalities in recent years through public awareness campaigns, stricter enforcement and new technology in both places.

Still quite ahead of Israel in figures, Ireland became the fourth safest country in terms of fatalities per billion vehicle- kilometers driven in 2010, according to data from the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group (IRTAD) 2011 report. Israel, on the other hand, which had placed 20 in 2004, moved up to placing 14 in 2010 and will likely move up to the 10th spot in the 2012 index, the officials predicted.

Ireland hopes to be in third place.

“One of the things I was conscience of was how many people die on the road in Israel,” said Irish Justice, Equality and Defense Minister Alan Shatter, who has been coming to Israel for many years.

Joining Shatter were experts and officials from both the Israeli and Irish road safety teams, as well as Irish Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly.

Shatter, under whose portfolio the Irish Garda Siochana police force serves, stressed how striking the change in Israeli road behavior has been recently.

“There was a dramatic drop in road fatalities,” he said.

Ireland likewise once suffered from a very similar road safety problem, but major actions have been taken since then to create changes for the better, and now the Israeli and Irish experts have the opportunity to share their experiences, Shatter explained. All in all, Israel had 290 road deaths in 2012, while Ireland had 162.

“Any death on the road is unacceptable if it can be avoided,” Shatter said, noting, however, that it is impossible to get to zero due to unforeseen health incidents.

As far as Israel’s road safety progress is concerned, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) in 2008 launched a multinational plan based on those of the top ten countries in the field, explained Rachel Goldwag, director of the RSA’s research division.

“Our goal is to be in the top five. I hope we don’t knock you out trying to get it,” she said to her Irish colleagues.

In Israel, although there has been a steady increase in the kilometers driven, the number of vehicles and the number of drivers in the country, the number of annual fatalities has been dropping since 1990. Just from 2004 to 2012, the country achieved a reduction in roadside fatalities by 40 percent, Goldwag said.

While in 2004 there were 12.7 fatalities per billion vehicle-kilometers, in 2012 that number dropped to 5.6, she added.

The main road fatalities occur among pedestrians, followed by car passengers and drivers, Goldwag explained.

Of pedestrians killed in the years 2007 to 2012, 33% were elderly and 17% were children, and of the children, 70% were from the Arab sector while 92% of the elderly were from the Jewish sector, she said.

The RSA has therefore targeted these vulnerable populations in their massive public relations campaigns, and is likewise changing the way it relates to younger drivers.

In an effort to raise pedestrian awareness even further, the RSA is aiming to implement diagonal crosswalks, raise pedestrian crossing and add refuge islands mid-block, Goldwag said.

“We’re two countries traveling a very similar trajectory and there’s a lot to learn,” said Noel Brett, CEO of Ireland’s Road Safety Authority.

Toward the end of the day’s meeting, Tsippy Lotan, chief scientist of the Or Yarok road safety NGO, pointed out that Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands had formed a systematic road safety partnership called “Sunflower.” In turn, she suggested that Israel and Ireland move forward with a similar official collaboration, which she said could be called “Iris.”

In response to Lotan’s idea, Shatter said he would love to be able to move such a project forward.

“I really like the idea of Iris and the possibility of us working closely on issues that are really close to us,” Shatter said. “In the end of the day, it’s really about saving lives.”

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