Given the bloody road accident toll, especially in the past month, it seems most Israeli drivers are unwilling to report - even in an anonymous phone survey - that they use their cellphone, smoke and eat while in their cars or admit that they tend to drive through yellow lights, pass dangerously and fail to give pedestrians the right of way.
The Health Ministry released Monday its first-ever survey on driving behavior, which included 2,766 drivers (of these 51 percent men) over the age of 17. The representative sample had a margin of error of +/- 2%.
According to the survey, 24% of drivers said they were smokers, and 64% of these smoke while driving. Although there is no specific law barring smoking while driving, one is legally bound to hold the wheel with both hands, and driving while holding a cellular phone in your hand is illegal and punishable by a heavy fine. Only 6.7% of the 51.8% of those who said they speak on the phone while driving admitted that they break the law by failing to use a speaker device that makes it unnecessary to hold the phone.
Just 16% said they drove their car less than two hours after drinking an alcoholic beverage. About half of the drivers admitted that they drive for two hours or more without stopping to take a rest (as recommended). Only 7% said they had been driving when involved in an accident with victims during the past decade. About a quarter said they eat in the driver's seat, either while driving or while stopping at a red light (there was no differentiation between these behaviors, one illegal and one legal).
Eighty percent said they rarely or never tailgate; 92% said they rarely or never fail to give pedestrians the right of way at a crosswalk, 63% said they never or rarely drive through a yellow light, and 96.4% insisted they never or rarely fail to observe traffic signs.
At the same time, 70% believe that punishments for moving violations must be more severe, and 12.5% felt the punishments were strict enough.
Asked to comment, Prof. Manfred Green, head of the ministry's National Center for Disease Control - which conducted the survey under the direction of Dr. Inbar Drucker - said surveys with self-reporting are an accepted way of assessing behavior, but he conceded that the results may not exactly reflect reality. "However, the fact that a considerable number of Israelis admit to violating the law and driving unsafely such as not taking a rest on long rides is something. The Health Ministry doesn't have the money to educate drivers to improve their behavior, but such an effort should be carried out by the Road Safety Authority and other agencies."
Green said that even though respondents were aware that those asking the questions had their phone numbers, they were told their answers were being recorded anonymously, and most of them did not fear punishment for illegal behavior.