The scene of a traffic accident on Road 31 near Arad.
(photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
It is a well known tragic fact that Israel’s Arab citizens are over-represented in road deaths. It is perhaps less well known that young Arabs are even more disproportionately represented among the casualties.
A recent study sponsored by Or Yarok, a road safety organization, gives a partial explanation why.
In a quantitative and qualitative survey, carried out by researchers from the University of Haifa, 723 Muslim and Christian youths were asked their views on issues associated with road safety. Large percentages revealed that they and their friends drive without a license, speed, ignore traffic rules, and tend to have a cavalier attitude toward road safety in general.
For instance, a third of respondents said they do not use safety belts; half said they were recently in a car and said nothing when the driver exceeded the speed limit; 40% said they drive inside their village without a driver’s license.
It was not clear from the survey why such large percentages of young Arab Israelis were so dismissive of traffic rules. However, three main factors – lax law enforcement, inadequate infrastructure and a lack of education – were raised during a recent conference on road safety in the Arab sector that was held in the Knesset and was chaired by Ayman Odeh, the head of the United Arab List.
Police enforcement inside Arab villages and towns is notoriously lax. This has negative ramifications for adherence to traffic rules. Drivers who know they will not be caught because there is little or no police presence are more likely to break traffic rules and thus endanger themselves and others. Just as murders and robberies are disproportionately high in the Arab, so too are traffic infractions.
Infrastructure is another problem in many Arab villages. Roads are missing signposts, traffic lights, and paint and are often pockmarked. Not only does this create confusion on the roads, but it sends out a message to Arab drivers that the State of Israel’s jurisdiction does not extend to their villages. A general atmosphere of lawlessness pervades. Arab drivers compare their own villages to the far more well-kept towns and cities in the rest of Israel and internalize the feeling that they are second-class citizens with less of an obligation to adhere to traffic laws.
Finally, more needs to be done to improve driving education inside the schools. The Education Ministry in conjunction with the Transportation Ministry should consider formulating a special program for Arab-sector schools that is not just a translation of the program for Jewish schools. The Arab sector has unique challenges that need to be addressed.
The data are truly worrying. Of the 355 road deaths in 2015, 98 were Arabs. Though they make up 21% of the population, Arab Israelis make up 28% of the deaths. And if we focus on younger age groups the situation is even worse. Of the children under four years of age killed in road accidents, 87% were Arabs; 60% of children aged 5-14 were Arabs. And among young drivers aged no more than 24 who were killed on the road, half were Arabs.
Steps are being taken to improve law enforcement in Arab communities. On Sunday the cabinet approved a multi-billion shekel plan to bolster police enforcement across the country with emphasis on Arab communities.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the vote “an historic decision that will once and for all create equality in service and law enforcement between Jewish and Arab communities.”
Ten new police stations will be created in or near Arab communities. And hundreds of new Arab police officers will be recruited who will serve under an Arab police commander.
But while this is an important component in combating road deaths, more needs to be done to improve infrastructure and education. The death toll on our roads reveals a glaring inequality that must be remedied.
Improved enforcement is an important step but it must include education and investment in infrastructure.