The spate of lethal road accidents that plagued the roads last week is primarily the result of reckless and dangerous driving, according to Traffic Police and the Transportation Ministry.
Others in the road safety field disagreed, saying that a lack of sufficient road infrastructure, budgetary issues and political wrangling were delaying badly needed reforms and improvements to road safety measures.
Twenty people were killed on the country’s roads last week. In the worst of these accidents, on Monday, members of three generations of a single family were killed when an army jeep, attempting to overtake another vehicle at a Negev intersection, slammed into the family car. A mother, her two children and their grandmother were burned to death in the ensuing blaze.
The woman, Efrat Gamliel-Atinsky, 39, had arrived in Israel with her children, Noam, five, and Ya’ari, two, on vacation from the US.
On Thursday, 12-year-old Eric Ofer, one of two children riding bicycles who were struck by a taxi at a pedestrian crossing in Ofakim earlier in the week, was laid to rest after succumbing to his injuries in hospital.
“Driver error is to blame for these accidents,” Traffic Police spokesman Yigal Habsur told The Jerusalem Post
, adding, “We will continue to enforce the law on the roads.”
Shmuel Aboav, director-general of the Or Yarok (Green Light) road safety organization, responded: “For 60 years, we have been told to blame the driver. But if we had fences on the roads where these accidents took place, separating lanes of oncoming traffic, we wouldn’t be seeing whole families wiped out.”
“The state must shoulder its share of the responsibility,” he added. “If it launched in-depth investigations into accidents, it would see that road infrastructure plays an important part.”
“There is no argument that responsible driving and road awareness are vital, and these points must be driven home to motorists,” Aboav said. “But it is too easy for the state to absolve itself of responsibility. We must create infrastructure that forgives driver errors and can absorb them without sentencing the driver to death.”
According to Aboav, installing lane separation fences on accident-prone roads, particularly in the North and South, would save an estimated 20 lives a year. Hundreds of speed cameras are also needed to act as a deterrent. The Traffic Police also need to increase the number of patrol cars, he added.
Referring to a 2005 road safety commission headed by economist Dr. Ya’acov Shinin which called for sweeping road safety reform and led the government to create the National Road Safety Authority, Aboav said the state was too slow in following Shinin’s recommendations.
The NRSA, which operates under the auspices of the Transportation Ministry, has not had a chairman in several months, while in 2008 the ministry itself was dealt a budget cut in funds allocated to reducing road accidents, Aboav said. The budget was reduced from NIS 550 million to NIS 330m.
A road safety expert who asked not to be named said that while the Shinin Commission had envisaged the NRSA as a statutory organization that could function as an independent monitor of the ministry’s efforts at combating accidents, in reality the NRSA lacked these powers due to it being a division within the ministry. “The law that created the NRSA is too weak,” the expert said.
“The NRSA can educate drivers. In the Beduin community, for example, where road accidents involving children run over by their parents near their homes is commonplace, NRSA staff went from tent to tent teaching parents about the need to keep their children in playgrounds.”
“But the NRSA is not a strong enough authority to order structural changes on roads – like moving badly situated traffic lights. It can only make recommendations. It has researchers and access to scientists and engineers. But it can’t tell the Traffic Police what to do. Which is not good,” he added, “because if it knows a certain patch of road is accident-prone, it should be able to order the police to increase patrols there.”
“The problem begins with the law,” he said.
Transportation Ministry spokesman Shmuel Ovadia dismissed such talk, saying, “The main aim of the NRSA is not to criticize the Ministry of Transport. It is being run according to the law.”
Describing allegations that the Shinin Commission was not being followed as “populist demagoguery,” Ovadia declared that “NIS 9 billion – a huge sum – has been spent since 2009 on road infrastructure alone. Bridges, new roads and safety fences are being erected. Everyone who travels on Israel’s roads can see this. To claim otherwise is demagoguery.”
Ovadia said the major accidents of the past week “were caused by human error. When a driver decides to cross a white line separating opposing lanes, he will cause an accident. It starts with the driver.”
He added, “Looking at the latest accident on Route 25, a safety fence cannot be erected there because the road is too narrow and bends around a sharp curve. I think that today, Israel has some of the most modern roads in the world. Of course much remains to be done, but no one can say we’re not improving the roads.”
The Traffic Police recently introduced 100 new patrols in daily shifts, Ovadia said.
Asked why the NRSA lacked a chairman, Ovadia replied, “We are in
the process of appointing a new chairman. In the meantime, the NRSA is
continuing its work without restrictions or disruptions.”
added: “Budget cuts have been forced on the ministry, but they have not
had a significant influence on its efforts to improve road safety. We
are trying to find alternative sources [of funding].”