Each year, about 150 children are killed in Israel due to "unintentional injuries."
Approximately 180,000 children are rushed to emergency rooms (that's 500 kids a day) and of those, approximately 24,000 are hospitalized. Kids fall, drown and suffer burns. They are poisoned, electrocuted, and forgotten in cars.
It is estimated that about half of Israeli children have suffered at some point from injuries requiring medical care. About half of child deaths from injury are due to traffic accidents. More than a quarter are defined as home and leisure-time accidents.
Not all children currently enjoying their summer vacation will show up on the first day of school or kindergarten. Hundreds of them will be in hospitals, recovering from injuries or beginning a long process of rehabilitation. Statistically, some of them will be killed before this month is out.
An "unintentional injury" is physical damage that could have been prevented by taking appropriate safety measures. We may prefer to relate to these cases as unforeseen and unexpected accidents, but sadly they are not. We didn't do enough to prevent them, and our reckless, careless or improper behavior led directly to tragedy.
In 2012, approximately half of all fatalities were children from the three lowest socio-economic clusters, although these segments comprise only 25% of Israeli children.
The death rate for lower socio-economic cluster children is twice that of middle class clusters and three times that of higher class clusters.
Poor people don't love their children less. Multiple factors are at play, such as inferior infrastructure, pressured and challenged parents, and even distance from hospitals.
An Arab child in Israel has 3 times more chances of dying from an unintended cause than a Jewish child, mainly in car accidents. This troubling fact is also due to a combination of factors, ranging from cultural behavior of parents (such as non-adherence to traffic laws) to environmental factors (such as one space serving as parking lot and playground).
Since 2008, more than 200 children were left in locked cars. 12 of them died. There have been many more unreported cases, when parents realized early enough and hurried back in time.
Experts tell us "it can happen to anyone," but there are many things that can be done, from apps and appliances to putting your left shoe in the back seat. You CAN beat statistics. Bad stuff doesn't just happen.
Head injuries are the most common cause of death from injury. A third of bike injuries are head injuries. Helmets are extremely effective, and can mitigate 85-88% of head and brain injuries.
According to Israeli law, it is mandatory for children to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, skateboard or roller-blades, yet less than a third of children wear them, and there is absolutely no enforcement.
My home town recently published a promotional video. Boasting a new skatepark, kids are seen skateboarding up and down half-pipes, without any protective gear. Not only did they reinforce dangerous, illegal behavior, but they missed a wonderful opportunity for subliminal learning
Visiting a national park recently, I saw green jeeps of the Nature and Parks Authority lined up outside an air-conditioned office, but not one park ranger at the site itself. Parents were sitting in the shade, smoking, while their kids dangerously climbed over safety railings.
Last week, at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, children were climbing a huge boulder. I called the zoo authorities and the response was: "Where are their parents?" Good question. Still, they should have fenced off the rock, placed a "no climbing" sign, and monitored the site via cameras. Maybe this will be done after a tragic fall.
Who is officially responsible for child safety in Israel?
Unfortunately, we suffer from splintered responsibilities and over-reliance on private organizations to promote national interests, such as the excellent work being done by the Israel National Council for the Child and Beterem Safe Kids Israel (Special thanks to both organizations, for assisting me with valuable information and insights).
Accurate reporting of accidents is important in order to assess risks and how to mitigate them, yet the police reporting system is inconsistent and non-methodological. There are variations in the way accidents are logged, and internal law enforcement considerations, such as extra attention to certain types of violations, may also distort the data and render it useless for research and learning purposes.
The Central Bureau of Statistics relies mainly on police reports, so our national resource for data suffers from under reporting of car accident injuries.
Child safety must be treated as a national effort, integrating all governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, municipalities and law enforcement authorities. This would enable us to collect, analyze and learn from one pool of information, and wisely lead legislation, safety education, amendments to physical infrastructure and law enforcement.
Our lousy safety culture is a direct derivative of our overall culture. The famous Israeli "It'll be OK," "Trust me," and "Don't worry" can all lead to tragic outcomes. Our reckless patterns are not only illegal and annoying – they are killing people every day. Safety culture and preventative measures should be adopted as a norm, embedded in our daily routines, incorporated in rules and regulations and strictly enforced.
People who have not been personally involved in an accident haven't a sense of how horrible it can be. We don't know enough to scare us.
We lack massive safety campaigns, using all media channels to promote awareness and teach parents how to mitigate risks. Maybe we should show brutal accidents, as is done in other countries, to educate by sheer fear.
Every day, parents hear about accidents and shake their heads in sympathy saying: "Oh no, that's terrible." Then they endanger their own children without batting an eyelid.
If you love your children, teach them to swim, install smoke detectors and check your home and yard for potential risks. Tell your kids to wear helmets.
But the most important thing is to protect your children by awareness, attentiveness and safe behavior.
And for goodness' sake - don't text when you drive!
The writer is a former pilot in the IAF, founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd. and International Project Manager at CockpitRM.