Kill speed, not people

Vision Zero must become our national vision.

April 23, 2015 22:12
4 minute read.
Car crash on Highway 90 in West Bank

Car crash on Highway 90 in West Bank. (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)

Israel’s policymakers are failing to prevent avoidable road deaths. In 2014, 320 people were killed on the country’s roads, up from 309 in 2013 and 290 in 2012, after the numbers fell from more than 400 per year in the past decade.

Recent data suggest that the tolls will continue to rise in 2015. The numbers of pedestrians killed during these years were 125, 94 and 92 respectively, according to the National Road Safety Authority report for 2014. Deaths of pedestrians, among which children and the elderly are disproportionately represented, amount to 40 percent of the road death tolls. This dismal statistic puts Israel in the league of poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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By the end of 2015, unless we wake up, the cumulative toll will exceed 72, the death toll from Operation Protective Edge.

In theory, we can eradicate the epidemic of road deaths because all the variables – the road, the vehicle, the human – are within our reach. “Vision Zero” is the bumper sticker phrase pithily stating this goal. Many European countries have halved their road death tolls since the late 1990s – in Scandinavian countries, child pedestrian death tolls are approaching zero. 

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“Speed Kills, Kill Speed” is the aphorism that stands behind Vision Zero. Surveys worldwide have shown that a 10% rise in the speed of impact results in a rise of almost 50% in fatalities everywhere – for drivers, passengers and pedestrians.

Based on the foregoing trends, Israel’s road death toll should by now have fallen below 200, as more vehicles congest our roads. No one is killed in a traffic jam.

So what has gone wrong? In the last three years, Transportation Minister Israel Katz raised posted speed limits as well as the leeway regarding the enforced limits to even higher levels, while cutting back on our national speed camera program.

In Israel, higher speed limits, travel speeds and speed spillover have squandered the proven benefits of safety countermeasures in road and vehicle design. Whatever the attributed “cause” or circumstance, it’s the speed of impact that is the critical variable.

A decade ago, Professors Elihu Richter and the late Gerald Ben-David and Dr. Yaakov Adler put together a platform – and their recommendations – summarized in the Vision Zero Platform presented by the Metuna organization for injury prevention, advocating for more public transportation, pedestrianization and speed-control programs. This platform was based on evidence-based estimates of the results expected from nationwide application of these measures.

It is time to revisit this platform.

So what is to be done? “Speed Kills, Kill Speed” has been a proven bumper sticker message for success on approaching Vision Zero. First, we need to lower the posted speed limits and the tolerance levels for exceeding them. We also need to use speed cameras posted at two points get around the problems of detection and deterrence posed by in-vehicle detectors warning messages to drivers approaching them.

Killing speeds of crashes was one major reason for the road death toll falling to under 300.

To kill speed for pedestrians, we need to build many more roundabouts and road bumps in urban areas – wherever speeds exceed 30 kph. We need bike lanes to make it possible to go from A to B. And we need to stop Israel’s disgraceful neglect of road safety measures for protecting pedestrians in Arab communities.

There is no question that cellphone use and its distracting effects on driver concentration have enormously increased risks – as has drunk driving, especially at night by younger drivers. But the death tolls from these latter risks are aggravated when the impact speeds of crashes are higher when drivers speed.

Kinetic energy is the pathogen in traumatic injury. The U turn in death tolls associated with Katz’s policies, in public health terms, can be compared to the injection of huge amounts of kinetic energy into our transport environment – the equivalent of injecting the live polio virus into our sewage and then removing mandatory chlorination of our water supply. When Margaret Thatcher was its prime minister, the UK recognized that reduction in the absolute number in road deaths was the gold standard measure of national success, and the rise in deaths was the measure of failure. Israel needs to redefine as unacceptable our horrific and totally preventable road death toll. Vision Zero must become our national vision.

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