This past fall, just before Israel shifted from one crisis to the next – from terrorist attacks to election fever – a growing tension pervaded the capital. There was a sense that Jerusalem was experiencing one bitter echo after another of the intifada that tortured Israel for the first five years of this century. The noise of the election campaign is only a temporary distraction from this reality.
Terrorism is part of the price we pay to live here and the expectation of yet another attack underlies our consciousness.
The apprehension is always present, if subdued, and is brought to the fore once again by the latest atrocity.
One effect of this constant stress is a feeling of helplessness, of lacking control over one’s fate, which may be determined in an instant by a terrorist. Jerusalemites recently felt this most horribly, when four rabbis and a policeman were murdered in a synagogue.
It is a depressing truth that we have become inured to the likelihood of deadly terrorist attacks, but Israelis also have become inured to another constant, lethal danger over which we actually do have control.
It is a grim paradox that we are killing one another off at a far faster rate than our Islamist enemies. Since 1949, according to the Foreign Ministry, some 2,700 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian terrorists. During that same period, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 26,576 Israelis died in road accidents.
In other words, we Israelis are our own worst enemies.
Last year, 318 people were killed in road accidents, compared to 23 Israelis and one foreign worker who were killed by terrorists.
Over the years, however, this scary statistic has contributed to a paradoxical misconception about Israeli drivers.
Israel, in fact, is among the seven safest countries in the world, as determined by the World Health Organization’s rating of road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants.
Israel within the Green Line comes in at No. 7, at 3.3; followed by Judea and Samaria, 3.2; Denmark, 3; Sweden, 3; Norway 2.9; Maldives, 1.9; and Micronesia 1.8.
The worst drivers are to be found in Eritrea, 48.4; Dominican Republic, 41.7; Libya, 40.5; Thailand, 38.1; Venezuela, 37.2; Iran, 34.1; and Nigeria, 33.7.
The WHO statistics apparently did not include fatalities in Israeli accidents caused by drivers signaling one direction and turning in another, or kamikaze motor scooter riders weaving in and out of traffic, or by either vehicle passing on the right.
The paradox is that, while fewer people were killed riding in cars, more of them were being run over by cars while trying to cross the street. National Road Safety Authority director Ya’acov Sheinin has noted that, out of the 318 people who died in road accidents in Israel in 2014, 125 were pedestrians.
While the authority studies this discrepancy scientifically, some probable explanations based on casual observation are clear. The growing and nearly universal usage of smartphones has taken over the lives of users at an alarming rate, mesmerizing pedestrians who step off the curb texting or listening to loud music through headphones without noticing they are in the middle of the street.
Drivers, on the other hand, are subject to rules and regulations that bar using a hand-held cellphone while behind the wheel and are subject to an apparently unenforceable fine of NIS 1,000.
A solution to this deadly problem nearly passed into law before the Knesset dissolved for the coming election. A bill proposed by MK Hamed Amer (Yisrael Beytenu) would ban the use of headphones while crossing the street.
The bill, approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, would prohibit the use of cellphones or headphones attached to any device that makes a sound, while crossing a street. In theory, at least, it would encourage Israelis to look where they are going.
“From a security standpoint, there is no difference between using a cellphone while driving and using one while crossing the street,” Amer said. “In both cases, the driver and the pedestrian are putting their lives in danger and that of those around them.
“It will be much safer for pedestrians crossing the street, even on a crosswalk, if they are not using their cellphones,” he said.
We can only hope that, after March 17, the next Knesset will pass the third reading (final) of this timely legislation.
Israelis have shown they are driving more safely; it’s time to prove they can cross the street.