Our transportation ministers are serial proposers of new draconian measures to combat Israel's biggest killer - road accidents. On the whole, nothing comes of these ballyhooed innovations. They are forgotten soon after the initial PR hype dies down.
True to form, current Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced Tuesday that he is considering upping the legal driving age from 17 to 19 or even 20. His rationale is that young drivers are involved in more accidents. If they don't shape up, they'll just not be allowed behind the wheel.
On the face of it, Katz makes sense. However, is his scheme feasible? Probably not - especially not in this country, where 18-year-olds are conscripted and judged mature enough to put their lives in harm's way to protect the rest of us.
In uniform, they are expected to drive a wide variety of military vehicles, steer warships and pilot fighter jets. Katz's idea would, absurdly, prevent them from using the family car on furloughs.
Moreover, 20-year-olds aren't necessarily more levelheaded than drivers just a couple of years their junior. Indiscretion cannot strictly be ascribed to teens. Imprudence is characteristic of a broader age category, but it is entirely impractical to push back the license-eligibility age to a point far later in adulthood, where the risks are more significantly reduced.
Yes, younger drivers are more reckless. Imposing discipline on them is vital, but tactics other than keeping them off the road altogether should be contemplated.
THE POLICE, for a start, need to enforce the law rigorously.
More highway patrol cars are needed on the roads. (Doing away with import duties for police vehicles, in order to increase their presence on busy thoroughfares, might help.)
On weekends especially, traffic arteries around nightlife centers should swarm with cops. Delinquent drivers must be removed from the roads and their cars confiscated. The law allows for this. License suspension is ineffective against the hardened sociopath-behind-the-wheel. It's quite difficult, however, to hit the accelerator without a car.
For a category of offenses considered particularly dangerous - such as drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs - the prescribed antidote should be to deprive the driver in question of his vehicle.
The state prosecution, moreover, must cease operating in slow motion and judges have to ditch their lenient inclinations. Wrist-slapping sends the wrong message. There must be zero tolerance for any infraction.
Katz is right in proposing that no alcoholic intake whatever be allowed for drivers, even if it doesn't exceed legal limits. Likewise, no cellphone use of any sort should be tolerated in cars because of the distraction to drivers.
New drivers should be accompanied by experienced adults for longer than the current three months - minimally for six months. Again, the penalties for noncompliance must be harsh.
More surveillance cameras are indispensable. Their importance cannot be overestimated. Speed detectors can save lives. It's estimated that a 1 percent increase of average speed leads to a 4% rise in deaths, while a 1% decrease in speed leads to a 4% reduction in fatalities.
NARROW ESCAPES and barely averted fender-benders are nothing unusual for most of us. Israelis aren't more prone to vehicular misadventure because of the weather, road infrastructure or any other external condition. We have only ourselves to blame for the mayhem on our highways.
The fault, above all else, resides with the Israeli driver's basic behavioral predispositions. Devil-may-care negligence, lack of elementary etiquette, perception of the road as one's private pathway, pushiness and ignorance of basic traffic-coexistence rules can all claim lives.
Israel's driving culture can be changed if an effort is made to eradicate specific violations like aggressive tailgating, blinding oncoming drivers with high beams at night, flashing lights, passing on the right, relating to stop signs as mere recommendations, failing to yield the right-of-way and much more. Generalized preaching must be replaced by reteaching the basics.
Education and re-education are long-term investments, vital for raising road-users' ethical awareness. More immediately, such ethics ought to be underscored by throwing the book at those who thumb their noses at our safety.