(photo credit: Channel 10)
Even as the Road Safety Authority sponsors radio advertisements proudly announcing that road carnage has dropped by some 20 percent, the past few days have shown how unsatisfactory, and perhaps misleading, such statistics can be. Since Friday, as of this writing, 10 Israelis have died on the roads, bringing the death toll just this year to 164.
At a steady rate of about 500 deaths per year, vast numbers of Israelis are losing their lives needlessly. Yet the UK, France and Australia have proven that road deaths can be reduced by half or more over just a few years, mainly by introducing national automatic speed camera systems.
So what is Israel waiting for? Some years ago it was announced that 300 speed cameras would be deployed in a test program on accident-prone roads. Finally, in April 2004, a committee was established to design such a system and work through the legal and logistical matters associated with the automated issuing of speeding and other traffic fines.
The bureaucratic problems have recently been resolved, and a tender will soon be published for the building and operation of the speed camera system. But the Transportation Ministry has only allotted a fraction of the necessary budget, so only a few dozen cameras will be initially deployed.
That decision was penny wise and pound foolish. The internal governmental committee pushing the speed camera project argued to the transportation and finance ministers that even a relatively limited system of just 300 cameras would reduce road deaths nationally by 25% - about 125 lives - and would save the government NIS 2 billion in medical and other costs.
And this would be just the beginning. A full nationally deployed speed camera system would save hundreds of lives annually and save many billions of shekels of losses for the government and the economy. The idea that we "cannot afford" a speed camera system is absurd. We cannot afford to delay deploying one from the human, moral, economic and budgetary perspectives.
Our new transportation minister, Shaul Mofaz, says by the end of the year the Road Safety Authority will be made independent of the Transportation Ministry, as the Sheinin Committee recommended, and will have a budget of about NIS 500 million. This is great news, but billions of shekels have already been spent on massive advertising campaigns and educational programs with mixed effectiveness and clearly insufficient results.
Again, it is difficult to understand how insufficient budgets can be deemed a problem when, properly spent, such budgets will save much more money than they cost. And this does not even take into account the tremendous "savings" in human suffering.
Among the latest casualties were Ro'i Leifer, 30, and his two-month-old son Tomiya. Ro'i Batya (28), his fianc e Keren Mourwati, and his cousin Eliran Batya (28) were all killed in a single head-on collision. Six-year-old Achram Zevidat of Sakhnin, who was named for his uncle who was also killed in a car accident, was hit by a car as he came out of a store near his home. His father said that Achram was "about to enter first grade, which he awaited with anticipation."
No price tag can be assigned to the pain of thousands of such shattered families.
Though speed cameras are ostensibly on the way, there needs to be a greater sense of urgency. As of now, the process of choosing a company to build the system, which will be operated privately and supervised by the police, will be lengthy. The first cameras are scheduled to be deployed only at the end of 2007.
Mofaz may regard his current post as a step down from his previous position as defense minister. If he wants, however, he can increase the size of the speed camera test project and accelerate its deployment, thereby saving untold numbers of Israeli lives. That is power that he did not have before, and that perhaps no other minister has to the same degree now.
As a soldier, Mofaz knows what it means to tell parents they have lost a child, to attempt to console a family that will never be the same. We hope he will recognize that he now has the power to spare many families such sorrow.