(photo credit: Zaka)
The hagim are over. As of this week, the country is back in business. We have reverted to winter hours on the clock; families have returned from summer holidays; children and students are back to their studies full-time; the Knesset is again in session.
And the rain has started to fall, with winter not far behind. Israeli drivers, who get into far too many accidents as it is, now face an additional peril: poor visibility.
More people die annually in traffic accidents here than they ever do in war or terror attacks. Poor driving at excess speeds, poor roads and poor police supervision are all blamed.
As of November 1, motorists are required to turn on their headlights both day and night on inter-city roads. The experts all agree that it makes it much easier to see oncoming vehicles if the lights are on. This in turn reduces the potential for accidents.
Which seems to beg the questions - does using your headlights improve the visibility of oncoming cars only in the winter months? Why not the rest of the year as well? And why not within city limits, too?
Driving with lights on during the day and night is mandatory by law in 16 European countries and recommended in three others.
The European Parliament's transport committee voted in favor of mandatory daytime running lights (known in professional circles by the acronym, DRL) earlier this month. Under a new European proposal, motorists would be forced to switch on their headlights when driving in daylight in all 25 European Union states. And the EU Commission has asked all member states by the end of the year to set a common date for making DRL mandatory.
It contends that this will save thousands of lives a year across the EU because cars will be more conspicuous to vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.
The most outspoken opponent of the idea seems to be the British road safety minister, Stephen Ladyman, who claims that it could result in more motorcyclists being killed. Speaking in a House of Commons debate this month, he said motorcyclists use their headlamps during the day to give themselves greater visibility in traffic, and this would not be the case if all vehicles did so. But he conceded that he had been unable to persuade his counterparts to vote against the EU Commission's proposal.
The commission's consultation paper on the issue concluded that numerous experiments under laboratory conditions had shown, "contrary to widespread fears, the fact that cars are using daytime running lights does not seem to diminish the effect of any motorcyclist's daytime lights."
Several studies (including the respected EU study in 2004, Daytime Running Lights and the more recent 2006 British review, Bandolier: A Light in the Darkness) have empirically demonstrated the positive effect of the practice. Bandolier found that "the mean effect was about a 15 percent reduction in accident rates whether studies were randomized or not."
Anyone who has driven the Arava Highway, one of Israel's most notorious for accidents (and one with almost no rainfall), can attest to the fact that oncoming cars with their headlights turned on in the stark sunlight are much easier to see and from a greater distance. And anyone who drives the Ayalon Highway in midtown Tel Aviv can be sure that when glancing in the rear-view mirror, it's easier to see cars bearing down on you if their lights are on.
Israelis who have driven lately in North America (where distances are far greater) may have noticed that a considerable number of motorists use their headlights day and night. In fact, many cars manufactured today have a mechanism which turns on the headlights the moment you start up the engine.
As the Knesset returns for its winter session this week, this is the time to introduce legislation on mandatory headlights - night and day, winter and summer, highway and city - for all driving in Israel. It could come into force by next spring, so that by the time the winter is over and drivers are used to using their headlights over the winter months, they merely have to continue the habit: Get into the car, start the engine, turn on the lights.
Israelis have thoroughly adjusted to the lifesaving use of seatbelts. They can adjust to this as well - and should be required to. And it will cost nothing. Over to you, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz.
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