After a five-year period in which fatalities caused by traffic accidents in Israel underwent a dramatic reduction, the past two years have shown an alarming rise of such incidents – particularly those involving pedestrians, National Road Safety Authority chairman Dr. Yaakov Sheinin said on Monday.
Over the last 12 months alone, 345 people – including 129 pedestrians – have died in car accidents on Israeli roads, Sheinin announced at a road safety conference organized by the Or Yarok organization.
In 2014, 320 people died in traffic accidents, while the fatalities for 2013 and 2012 involved 309 and 290 people respectively. The numbers of pedestrians killed during these years were 125, 94 and 92 respectively, according to the authority’s annual report for 2014, released in early January.
“What happened is, if you look at 2013, you see that the number of pedestrians that were killed increased by 31 people,” Sheinin told The Jerusalem Post on Monday evening. “If we have enough money and enough authority we can prevent this.”
In the authority’s annual report, Sheinin said that he saw the current road safety situation as in critical need of urgent repair. While the beginning of the 21st century showed a downward trend in road fatalities in Israel, this trend ceased in the past two years, Sheinin explained in the report.
Prior to the increase in traffic-related deaths that occurred in 2013, the 290 fatalities for 2012 had marked a sharp drop in comparison to 2011, in which 382 people died in traffic accidents and in comparison to the authority’s first measurements in 2007.
From 2007 to 2011, the numbers went up and down and up again, from 415 to 433, 346, 375 and 382 respectively, the data indicated. However, the overall downward trend in fatalities ceased as of 2013.
Sheinin stressed in the annual report that the National Road Safety Authority already “raised a red flag” about the situation about a year ago, and he expressed alarm particularly at the high number of fatalities involving pedestrians. About 40 percent of the 2014 traffic-related fatalities involved pedestrians – a percentage that is roughly double the norm in most developed countries, the report said.
”Israel still has a long way toward becoming one of the safest countries in the world,” Sheinin said in the report. “In 2014, Israel is, in my estimation, the world’s 12th ranking country in road safety, and it must decrease road fatalities by an additional 33% to be among the five safest countries.”
In order to do so, Sheinin stressed the need for both a larger budget and increased independence in the authority’s operations.
“We can have safer driving,” he told the Post. “The authority is not operating at its best because actually every ministry wants to do everything by itself.”
“Everybody wants the money and nobody wants to get our advice,” he added.
The National Road Safety Authority was established in 2006, following the recommendations of a committee headed by Sheinin, which had been tasked with preparing a multi-year national plan for road safety.
In addition to proposing the authority’s establishment, Sheinin and his colleagues set a target of becoming one of the lead countries in the field of road safety within 10 years.
After adopting the recommendations of the “Sheinin Committee,” the government established the National Road Safety Authority – as an independent authority under the umbrella of the Transportation Ministry – with a budget of NIS 550 million annually.
Early on, the authority set a goal of reducing traffic- related fatalities to 360 or below for 2010 and 330 or below for 2012 – the second of which was achieved. While the National Road Safety Authority was initially granted NIS 550m., today’s prices necessitate a budget of about NIS 660m., the annual report said.
However, not only has the budget not increased, it has been “cut drastically each year,” with the authority only receiving 35% of its original budget for 2015 and NIS 160m. of that being transferred to third parties in the road safety sector, the report added.
Due to its lack of funds for independent operational activities, the National Road Safety Authority has therefore been run “as a weak and ineffective body,” with little ability to ensure that every shekel is devoted to road safety measures, the report said.
“We get less and less money; we have less and less influence,” Sheinin told the Post. “The law was a little bit too soft. They established the authority but didn’t give the authority enough power.”
With a larger budget and greater operational independence, Sheinin argued that much more could be accomplished to curb fatalities. Because infrastructure such as roads and bridges, as well as the build of cars themselves, have swiftly improved in the past decade, fatal accidents between cars continue to drop, he explained.
“The car today, technology-wise, is completely different from the car 10 years ago,” he said. “So every year we get an improvement.”
Nonetheless, Sheinin stressed, traffic accidents involving pedestrians continue to soar. If given more funds and sway, the National Road Safety Authority could see to the installation of many more speed bumps in urban settings, as well as streetlights and traffic circles, he explained. With added mechanisms to force cars to slow down, many pedestrian lives can be saved, according to Sheinin.
“The trend is that we don’t take care of pedestrians,” he said. “We take care of the people in the car.”