When Israel exchanged more than 1,000 terrorists for tank gunner Gilad Schalit
in late 2011, the Jewish state demonstrated – after much soul-searching – the
principle that the life of every one of its citizens is sacrosanct.
wantonly reckless decision by Transportation Minister Israel Katz last week to
raise posted speed limits on select highways violates this sacrosanct
Katz announced that he had approved raising posted speed
limits from 110 to 120 kph on Highway 6 (the Trans-Israel Highway) and selected
stretches of Highway 1 (between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) – with enforcement
thresholds 10 kph higher.
The move, which requires approval from the
Knesset Finance Committee, was based on a panel’s report in 2010 showing that
superior infrastructure on multi-lane highways permitted higher
Based on experience, though, the decision will result in more
deaths, and more disabling and crippling injuries, crushed limbs and permanent
brain injuries. It will roll back the benefits of countermeasures against
excessive and inappropriate speeds.
Indeed, road deaths rose from 314 in
2009 to 352 in 2010, the year after Katz increased speed limits once
Everyone knows that speed kills, and that more speed kills more.
Studies have shown that a 10 percent increase in the speed of collision impact
results in an increase of almost 50 percent in deaths. The cause-effect
relationship is as strong as that between smoking and lung cancer.
speed limits induce higher travel speeds – not only on the roads on which the
limits are raised, but the so-called spillover has an addictive effect on young
The results are catastrophic when heavy vehicles are involved,
or drivers drink alcohol or are fatigued, talk on cellular phones and drive
Professors Elihu Richter and Avi Rivkind of the Hebrew
University-Hadassah have repeatedly documented the relationships between higher
speed limits and carnage in Israel, and have warned policy-makers and the public
of these effects. Or Yarok, the Association for Safer Driving in Israel, has
joined them in opposing Katz’s decision.
True, in 2012, for the first
time since the 1950s, Israel’s reported road death toll fell to under 300. But
that is almost 300 deaths too many.
Road injury experts rightly point out
that Vision Zero – eradicating the scourge of death and crippling injuries – is
achievable through better safety standards for vehicles, improved road design,
speed-camera enforcement systems, pedestrianization (converting streets into
walkways), better trauma care and a modal shifts to public
Advocates of raised speed limits for Israel say that they bring
the country into line with European Union trends toward looser restrictions.
This argument fails to take into account the superior standards for safer
designs of European roads, greater pedestrianization and better working
conditions of professional drivers. Israel lags behind on all these
Higher speeds exponentially increase gasoline consumption and air
pollution emissions and produce more wear-and-tear on our
Furthermore, the claims for economic benefits of higher travel
speeds are spurious – especially in a tiny country such as ours. Transportation
studies have shown that faster speeds in a small country save very little travel
The real delays come from traffic jams and congestion.
core value that guides all government policy is supposed to be protection of the
life and security of citizens. Yet one cannot help but notice the
indifference of Israel’s legal elites, opinion-makers, policy-makers and media
to Katz’s decision and its lethal consequences.
Should Katz not be held
accountable for the inevitable loss of life and limb resulting from a decision
that flies in the face of all the evidence? Is it not time to subject the
decision-making process concerning speed limits to the level of scrutiny to
which we subject trials for new medical procedures in hospitals, as proposed by
Richter and his colleagues in a classic paper published in the British Journal
of Medical Ethics?
Israel should lead, not follow, Europe in eradicating the
epidemic of road deaths. Vision Zero means that in the 21st century, road deaths
should be redefined as unacceptable, just as 19th-century England redefined
contaminated drinking water as unacceptable.