Tel Aviv traffic.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
An already high fatality rate from road accidents involving Arab drivers is increasing, with Arab MKs and other critics saying that the government is not doing enough to deal with the problem.
According to the National Authority for Road Safety, 107 Arab drivers have died since the start of 2017, compared to the 101 who died during the same period in 2016. A report issued this week by the authority showed a 22% increase in Arab road fatalities in 2016 compared with 2015.
Arab drivers were involved in 34% of fatal car accidents in 2016, despite accounting for only 17% of license holders, according to NARS.
To lower this number, “We have to educate youths not to drive recklessly and that safety is the most important thing,” says MK Masud Gnaim (Joint List), who stresses that bad infrastructure and dangerous roads in Arab locales also play a role in the high death rate.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, the co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, points to a lack of playgrounds that force kids to play in the street, “extremely bad” roads, as well as an absence of sidewalks and traffic lights.
Other factors, he says, are “bad education, reckless driving, lack of authority and very poor enforcement and very poor presence of the rule of law in Arab cities.”
Moriah Malka, a spokeswoman for NARS, says cutting the Arab fatality rate has been prioritized as a main target of the authority this year. In contrast to previous years when the authority merely translated safety materials from Hebrew to Arabic, this year a major campaign to reach the Arab public was launched under the direction of Arab public relations specialists. “We used the best people and we made a distinctive campaign,” she said.
Under the slogan “Your life is more important,” the campaign is aimed at influencing drivers aged 17-24. It encourages their siblings, friends and parents to help prevent accidents, and to encourage the driver: “Think about what you are doing. Your behavior is endangering your life.”
Campaign ads show parents of a young driver who had died, voicing regret that they had not warned him not to speed and a young man who voices regret at not having prevented his friend from texting while driving.
The authority is also working with religious leaders to spread the message of safety and has organized lectures on it in mosques, Malka says. “The authority will continue to invest during 2018 and we hope we will begin to see results in the coming year, but it is the kind of thing that becomes apparent in the long run.”
According to Malka, the high fatality rate is in large measure a “cultural matter.”
“It’s a very traditional society and the belief that everything comes from Allah is very dominant. We come and try to change the cultural concept and to say, ‘Listen, not everything is from Allah. It’s not an order of fate. It depends on you and you should educate your children.’ It’s very deep in the culture and therefore hard to change. We are saying, ‘You can’t say it’s all from Allah. If you don’t fasten your seatbelt you will die. If you speak on the cellphone while driving you will die. If you put five children in back or a child without a booster it will harm your child. It’s up to you, not to God.’” MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) took issue with Malka’s approach. “I wouldn’t use cultural arguments here. That is blaming the victim. The main responsibility has to do with the role of the government.”
In Jabareen’s view, the government needs to devote substantial resources to improving infrastructure to boost safety and to create industrial zones in Arab areas so that youths do not have to commute long distances to jobs in major cities like Tel Aviv. Educational efforts also need to be stepped up, he says.
“The high fatality rate in the Arab community demands more attention – not just from the authority but from all government agencies responsible for this issue. It needs more of a combined effort, including the ministries of interior, economy, labor and education to work together in a more orchestrated effort.
The results we are seeing shows that more needs to be done.”
Beeri-Sulitzeanu also thinks broader efforts are needed. “There needs to be serious improvement in the planning of Arab towns.
We need to see an investment in sidewalks, improvement of roads, installation of traffic lights, road signs, squares, playgrounds for kids so they don’t walk in the streets.”
At the same time, police need to be stationed on a permanent basis in Arab towns and to work alongside the Education Ministry to educate residents about road safety, he said.