Drivers beware. Dozens of traffic enforcement cameras situated at accident-prone roads and junctions are due to be switched on Sunday.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch approved the final details of the plan last Wednesday, after holding lengthy late-night meetings with ministry officials.
“He wanted to make sure that every camera was in a ‘red route,’” a Public Security source said, referring to roads in which the highest number of fatal accidents occur.
“He went over the map, road by road. He wanted to make sure these cameras won’t be money-makers,” the source added.
Some members of the public believe that the cameras are aimed at lining government coffers with cash from fines. The cynics dismiss road safety as an authentic reason for the cameras’ presence.
But such allegations are seen as being wholly fictional in the Public Security Ministry. “We won’t see a shekel from fines,” the source said. “Everything will go to the Finance Ministry.”
In reality, the source added, the plan for the cameras was hatched after officials watched reckless driving claim hundreds of Israeli lives every year on the roads.
In stage one of the plan, 28 traffic cameras were installed on the “red routes,” and will become operational from Sunday. In stage two, due to be completed in the coming months, a further 19 cameras will be installed.
Eventually, 60 cameras will make up a traffic enforcement network. Two-thirds will be speed cameras and a third will be installed at traffic lights to capture on film drivers who endanger lives by running red lights. Speeding is the number one cause of dangerous accidents, according to Traffic Police, followed by disregard of red lights.
Together, those two violations accounted for 54 percent of all lethal accidents in 2011.
“The aim is to create a change in the Israeli driving culture, to significantly reduce traffic accidents and fatalities on the roads, to reduce thuggish road conduct and to increase deterrence,” said Eliezer Rozenbaum, the deputy director-general of the ministry.
The plan, which is backed by Traffic Police chief Cmdr. Bruno Stein, was launched after Stein and senior ministry officials traveled to other Western countries to observe the impact cameras had on accidents.
They found that accident rates decreased by 30-50% in France, Australia and the UK, while in Canada, cameras caused a 25% reduction in accidents.
To further prove that the cameras are not “money-makers,” Aharonovitch ordered police to make their locations public and set up signs to warn drivers.
“We don’t want to hurt drivers’ wallets. Road signs will warn drivers that they’re approaching a camera enforcement zone,” ministry director-general Yaakov Ganot said. “This will also help deterrence.”
Cell phone networks have already updated their GPS programs to inform drivers of the cameras’ locations.
In order to further avoid public rage over fines, officials plan a gradual enforcement plan, which will see drivers receive only warning letters in the first month.
The letters will be signed by Traffic Police Cmdr. Bruno Stein.
“I would like to personally ask you to obey traffic laws and I’d prefer not to give you a ticket for this offense. It’s better to lose a moment in life than to lose life in a moment,” the letter, which will be accompanied by a photograph of the offense, will say. Then, from March onward, drivers will begin receiving fines.
Images snapped by the digital cameras will be sent automatically to a Traffic Police control center, where an officer will review the offense. Once approved, a report will be drawn up by the computer and sent to the driver’s home within 96 hours.
Officials believe a speedy issuing of the ticket is intrinsic to achieving deterrence.
At the same time, the government’s Road Safety Authority will gather figures from the new program and map out other dangerous junctions and roads for new cameras.
The current locations of the cameras are based on a survey of lethal accidents between 2006 and 2010. While only 11.2% of all accidents occurred on the roads now under camera watch, 30% of all serious accidents occurred in these locations.
Road safety planners say time and again that the cameras are not about making money. Sadly, however, the cameras are evidence that the threat of financial harm strikes more fear into drivers than the threat of physical injury and death.