car accident 88.
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A just-released study in the prestigious American Journal of Preventive Medicine by a team of Israeli researchers seems to explain a large gap in road fatality rates between the United States and the United Kingdom. Though the paper, entitled "Death and Injury from Motor Vehicle Crashes: A Tale of Two Countries," does not cover Israel directly, its implications regarding what to do - and not to do - to reduce road carnage here could not be more stark.
The paper, written by a team headed by the Hebrew University-Hadassah Center for Injury Prevention Director Elihu Richter, sought to determine why road deaths dropped by 33.9% in the United Kingdom, compared to 6.5% in the United States, between 1990 and 1999. After examining a number of purported explanations, such as the increase in flip-prone SUV usage in the US, the study found that the gap was caused by the introduction of speed cameras and other speed-reducing measures in the UK, in contrast to the raising of speed limits in the US.
The study found that if the US had implemented UK-type speed control policies and not raised speed limits, "there would have been an estimated 6,500 to 10,000 (about 16% to 25%) fewer road deaths per year" from 1996 to 1999. Based on the experience of the UK, Australia, and France, the authors noted that "reductions of up to 50% are now achievable based on newer population-wide strategies for speed control."
It is obvious that speed cameras work. In Victoria, Australia, for example, where speed cameras have been in use since 1985, the proportion of drivers exceeding the speed limit has dropped by 66 percent. The link between speed and fatalities is also well established. When most US states increased rural speed limits to 75 mph, road deaths increased by 38%. When Israel increased the speed limit from 90 kph to 100 kph on just three roads, deaths rose by 15%.
The evidence is equally compelling as to the positive results from reducing speed limits. When the US imposed a national speed limit in 1974 - in response to the energy crisis - road deaths dropped by 3,000 to 5,000 per year for a decade.
Given the mounds of evidence that speed kills, it is incredible that the Livne committee, appointed by the Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, actually advocated raising our speed limits. A group of 15 physicians and scientists wrote Sheetrit to protest this "unethical exercise in human experimentation," but Sheetrit has not ruled it out, and claimed to The Jerusalem Post that the public wants higher speed limits.
Though in most countries all kinds of speed enforcement measures seem unpopular, it is misleading to suggest that they cannot win majority support. In Victoria and the UK, speed cameras have been opposed by some, but the programs have been expanded over time, and the majority of drivers do support them - 80% in Victoria. In any case, it is the job of public officials not to be swayed by vocal minorities and to act in the public interest.
A report by another committee, chaired by Yaakov Sheinin, has recommended massive spending on roads and education campaigns - funded by a special tax - and claims that this will bring down road deaths. Sheinin, and even the well-known road safety group Or Yarok which has backed the Sheinin approach (while opposing higher speed limits), are content with a goal of reducing road deaths by 200 over at best 10 years.
That is not good enough. The record shows that implementing proven speed camera programs can slash death rates much more and much faster. Moreover, they would be financed by the speeders themselves (similar to making polluters pay for their pollution), since revenue from tickets is much higher than the cost of the enforcement system. Any extra revenue can be returned to the public through reduced gas or road taxes.
There is simply no excuse to allow the carnage, which has claimed more lives each year than terrorism, to continue. Some day Israel will catch up with some 75 countries where speed cameras are used widely. The only question is when, and how many lives must be needlessly lost before that happens.
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