car accident 88.
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Anecdotal evidence suggests that people from English-speaking countries believe Israeli drivers are far worse than those back home, with the result that driving in this country is more dangerous.
Cmdr. Shahar Ayalon, the head of the traffic police, disagrees.
"It's not true, it's a myth," he said on Thursday. "Israelis are good drivers. They are like every other driver."
Ayalon was speaking on the sidelines of the National Traffic Police's annual conference, where he presented the division's summary for 2005.
The road accident statistics for the year, while not quantifying the quality of Israeli drivers compared with others, do indicate that the roads are getting safer. The number of deaths fell to 475 from 520, with the 2005 amount the second-lowest in the last 30 years and the lowest since 1982.
The number of deaths so far this year has fallen to 63 from 68 in the corresponding period in 2005.
Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra said accidents could be cut by improving the enforcement of traffic laws and making people more aware about the dangers of bad driving. He also said road infrastructure needed to be improved.
"There is money to improve the infrastructure," he said. "The question is how to divide it up. The money you will save from a reduction in the number of accidents can be used for this."
Ezra would like to install more speed cameras but has come up against bureaucratic problems.
"We recently put out a tender, but when we want to buy speed cameras from abroad, the foreign companies need to buy Israeli products. They therefore need exemptions (from this) from the Finance Ministry," he said.
Ayalon said he would like double the number of traffic policemen, which stands at 2,000, although there are also 10,000 civilian volunteers who carry out traffic duties in their spare time.
"Nobody outside Israel understands how these people leave everything to go and fight the war on road accidents," Ayalon told the conference.
In addition, Ezra said the government has decided to use conscripted soldiers as traffic police.
The total number of accidents last year fell 5.4% to 17,357, of which 86% were light accidents. The number of fatal crashes dropped 13% to 401, while the number of pedestrians killed fell to 138 from 182, although the figure was still about 30% of all fatalities.
"This is not acceptable. In the rest of the world it's 15%," said Ayalon.
In addition, 29% of the 3,400 drivers who were tested were found to be under the influence of alcohol, and the number of tickets given for drunk driving jumped almost three-fold. This could be due partly to the fact that police have used more breathalyzers.
The statistics also show that the problem of road accidents is worse in the Arab sector than in the rest of the country, as they make up 15% of driving license holders but constitute 26% of fatalities.
The police attributed this to poor infrastructure in Arab areas, such as bad lighting and a lack of road names and house numbers, while Ezra said that some places are unsuitable for cars to drive in.
"It's a result of building without planning ... in a place where there should have been a road there is a house and you can't destroy the house because it's finished. Therefore, we need the government to improve the infrastructure and we need the population to condemn those who drive without a license," he said.
"We will do everything we can to improve the situation for this year," he pledged.
In addition, fewer Arabs use seat belts and children are less aware about road safety, with the result that they constitute a high proportion of fatalities.