The grisly killing of three pedestrians in Netanya last Friday by a hit-and-run
driver alleged to be speeding under the influence of alcohol is a bitter
reminder of our continued failure to follow through on the lessons of past
accomplishments in protecting all road users.
Ironically, these lessons
came from a drop in road deaths from nine to one in Netanya associated with a
pilot speed camera project in the late 1990s. The project was the brainchild of
the late Prof. Gerald Ben-David.
The take-home messages from the project
were: Kinetic energy is the pathogen in road injuries; speed kills more; and
killing speed in cities saves lives of all road users – drivers, pedestrians,
Ads selling cars tout speed and encourage speed
Speed cameras kill speed by increasing the likelihood of
detection by a factor of between 20 and 100 – to a level that deters.
2011, 341 people were killed on Israel’s roads. Based on trends so far this
year, we may finally have lowered the annual death toll to under 300. Good news?
The toll, according to Prof. Elihu Richter of the Hebrew
University-Hadassah – Ben-David’s colleague – should approach “Vision Zero,”
because deaths from crashes are an epidemic that can be eradicated. All the
factors – human, vehicular and environmental – are within reach of modification
by governmental policy and individual choices.
By now, Israel’s annual
death should have been under 200, based on the spectacular progress in various
European countries. The Hebrew University-Hadassah Injury Prevention Center has
spelled out the components of a national policy to reach Vision
First, lower existing speed limits and the levels at which they are
enforced. Higher speed limits outside cities result in speed spillover into
cities, and reach all the way into crosswalks.
Second, massively increase
the distribution of speed cameras, now fewer than 100, to several hundred
Everywhere they are used, they save lives by killing speed,
and, yes, the revenue they generate pays for their operation.
speed limits, and put in place many more speed cameras. Repeated speeders should
be removed from the roads before they kill, not after.
night-time breath-testing points, which stop speeding drivers, given the strong
relationship between drinking and driving.
Fourth, stop building more
roads, but make existing ones safer. This includes removing all steel poles and
other booby traps.
Upgrade markings and dividers to European Union
standards. Build more roundabouts; they are a very effective and friendly method
to reduce speed throughout the road network. And put in many more humps and
bumps – known in Latin America as “sleeping police.”
Fifth, promote modal
shifts to much more public transit of all kinds, bike-bus and bike-train
packages, and more. Right now, only 30 percent of Israel’s public uses public
transport – a consequence of distorted public priorities shaped by the pressures
of road builders and their hired consultants. Every person traveling on a bus or
light rail instead of in a private vehicle reduces risks by 90%.
impressive safety record of Jerusalem’s Light Rail network makes the case for
more of the same.
Sixth, massively invest in better public transit from
the “periphery” to the center of the country. Doing so would make this
condescending term obsolescent.
The road death toll should be much lower
than it is because of the economic recession, rising fuel prices and traffic
congestion. All three result in slower driving.
There have been two other
Israel’s trauma centers, under the leadership of
Prof. Avi Rivkind, chief of surgery at Hadassah, have greatly reduced mortality
in persons injured in road trauma to levels as good or better than US averages,
and much better than in the UK.
The IDF has made major progress in
improving safety standards of its vehicles, and attacking fatigue. New
regulations for maximum work hours of truck drivers have also
Prof. Gerald Ben-David died exactly a year ago, at the age of 83,
after gaining the esteem of those who mattered and cared. The mission before us
is to realize his vision, and bring our road deaths down to zero.