Administrative carnage

By ELIHU D. RICHTER
January 11, 2011 23:33

The State Comptroller’s Office and the Ministry of Justice should determine if Katz’s decision to increase speed limits was criminally negligent.




2008 car accident in Negev

car accident 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

I call on Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz to cancel his decision to raise speed limits to 110 kph (with an enforcement threshold of 120 kph).

This decision will certainly result in more dead, maimed, paralyzed and disabled drivers, passengers and pedestrians of all ages. Based on past experience, there will be more victims of blunt and penetrating trauma, skull and brain injuries and more dead kids. If Katz persists, the government should fire him for what I call administrative carnage.

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Unlike the deaths from the Carmel fire, which resulted from long-term negligence and many errors of wanton omission, the deaths resulting from Katz’s decision will result from a willful error of commission. I call on the State Comptroller’s Office and Ministry of Justice to determine if this decision was criminally negligent; it is certainly reckless, shocking and dangerous.

Many senior experts in trauma, injury prevention and public health have joined me in this call to cancel the raised speed limit: Prof. Avi Rivkind, chief of surgery; Prof. Charles Milgrom, chief of orthopedics; and Dr. Uzi Zohar, a surgeon, of Hadassah-University Medical Center; Dr. Ya’acov Adler, former deputy surgeon-general of the IDF and a past chief of the Shaare Zedek emergency room; Prof. Gerald Ben- David and Zvi Weinberger, the physicists who pioneered the introduction of speed cameras in Israel; Prof. Ted Tulchinsky, formerly directorgeneral of preventive services in the Ministry of Health; Dr. Amnon Lahad, head of family medicine and former head of Community Preventive Health Services of the Ministry of Health; Dr.

Yael Stein, a colleague in occupational medicine at Hebrew University; Profs.

Elliot Berry and Charles Greenblatt, two former directors of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine; and Dr. Henry Hashkes, a family doctor just designated as a Yakir Yerushalayim.

Add to this list Yehuda Meshi-Zahav of Zaka, the man who has to confront the carnage head on.

TO DATE, Katz has ignored the requests of The Jerusalem Post’s transportation reporter Ron Friedman and I to produce the report allegedly endorsed by 30 experts that would raise the speed limit.

Katz’s decision appears to be based on a set of arguments recycled from 1992- 1993, when so-called experts wrongly predicted that a rise in speed limits would not increase road deaths. Research by my colleagues and I at Hebrew University has shown that the higher speed limits resulted in an additional 40 to 60 deaths per year. The move to raise speed levels even more carries the almost certain risk of similar results .

Everywhere, speed kills, and more speed kills more. A 10 percent increase in speeds of impact results in a 45% rise in fatalities among passengers and pedestrians. Raised speed limits induce even higher speeds, and produce speed addiction and speed spillover to other roads. The raised limits will cancel the benefits of speed cameras in reducing deaths.

Katz seems indifferent to the fact that since he has become transportation minister, road deaths have increased by 10% or more, after a large drop in 2009 to 354 from 455 in 2008. After the speed limit was raised in 1993, one of its professional lobbyists was arrested for driving at 140 kph. Just now, another lobbyist for higher speeds, Dr. Moshe Becker, was caught doing 170 kph.

These speed addicts are among the intellectual fathers of the decision to play with the lives of our citizens.

And the dangers will only increase if the minimum age for a driver’s license is lowered to 16.

TO MAKE matters worse, Katz and other ministers appear to have put the brakes on the single most important step to protect the public from road carnage: a national network of speed cameras. Katz has scaled back an initial program to introduce 60 cameras to allow for a mere 20.

During the 1990s there were reductions of some 45 to 50% in death tolls in the UK, the state of Victoria in Australia, and in France. These countries applied the axiom that because speed kills, they have to kill speed. The fig leaf for Katz’s decision to downsize the national speed camera network is a poorly defined campaign to “enforce” prevention of a list of vaguely defined high-risk behaviors including everything except speed.

I compare this approach to a campaign that would prevent lung cancer by teaching people how to smoke safely.

We can make some educated guesses concerning the motives behind Katz‘s decision to accept more road carnage.

Here, as elsewhere, road builders, car importers and gasoline companies are alarmed by the ever-increasing popularity of faster public transportation between cities. As in Italy, where Fiat lobbied for higher speed limits on the freeway to compete with the high speeds of the Eurostar fast trains, so it is here, where a similar set of interests promote more speed and more roads – what I call Asphalt Zionism.

The result is a cash-for-carnage scenario. The late Simon Woolf, a toxicologist, once wrote that the arguments transportation experts advance for more roads and higher speeds are examples of the “lying, thieving, cheating and fraud” that corrupt so much of what is called science.

But let’s get back to the personal responsibility of Katz, and that of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who also happens to be health minister.

Imagine a hospital doctor deciding to prescribe a medicine which he believes will make patients feel better. But the same medication, when previously used in the hospital, killed many.

Furthermore, the same medication killed many patients in every other hospital in which it was used. In the medical world, this doctor would be prosecuted for medical negligence and sent to jail.

A government’s first responsibility is to protect the life and safety of its citizens. It is now considered a norm of transportation policy to aim for large reductions in the absolute number of those killed and paralyzed on our roads.

Speed cameras achieve this, and produce large, immediate and costeffective solutions. Vision Zero – no road deaths – is an achievable goal. But Katz has already declared that his policies are no longer guided by the goal of reducing road deaths and injuries.

What is shocking about this statement is the fact that no one is shocked by it.

I propose that the prime minister cancel Katz’s wantonly negligent decisions and immediately restore the budget for many more speed cameras.

Netanyahu bears direct personal responsibility for the consequences of Katz’s exercise in administrative carnage.

The writer was formerly head of the Injury Prevention Center at Hebrew University- Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine.


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