COVID-19 multiplies traffic deaths, injuries from increased use of electric scooters, motorcycles

Public opts out of public transport due to coronavirus * Israel has ‘third-world transportation chaos’

Buses on a Public transport route in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Buses on a Public transport route in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
COVID-19 is reshaping how Israelis commute, as people shift from public transportation and private cars to electric scooters and motorcycles, resulting in more injuries and deaths due to a lack of enforcement, according to Or Yarok (Green Light) spokesperson Oz Dror.
With the nationwide lockdown, there have been 70% fewer cars on the roads, yet the decrease in accidents “was less than you’d expect” in April, he told The Jerusalem Post.
There was a 36% drop in accidents in the European Union, but Israel reported a drop of 19%, Dror said. Italy reported the greatest drop in lethal accidents (86%). Some countries, including France, reported an increase in speeding violations, which they suggest is because the empty roads tempt people to drive 50% above the speed limit, he said.
On Sunday, Shmuel Glick, 16, was killed while riding an electric scooter in Jerusalem. An increasing number of Israelis have lost their lives or suffered trauma due to this new means of transportation.
Last year, Ari Nesher, 17, was killed while riding an electric scooter when soccer player Itzhak Asefa drove into him. Model Shlomit Malka slipped off her electric scooter in 2017 and was put on a ventilator. She eventually recovered.
“There are 300,000 electric scooters on the road, and the state does nothing,” Dror said.
The number of accidents involving electric scooters rose from 286 in 2018 to 807 in 2019, he said.
No license is needed to ride a scooter, the police do not have enough traffic officers, and no special lanes were created for riders, which means they compete with pedestrians on the sidewalk or with cars on the road, risking hitting people or being hit themselves, Dror said.
“When we talk about wearing a helmet, the educational campaign has utterly failed,” he said.
Among those who suffer head injuries while riding scooters, 80% do not wear a helmet, 56% never wear one, and 12% talk on the phone while they ride, Dror said.
“In Berlin, they expanded lanes so that people who ride scooters could bypass one another without getting too close and get infected with COVID-19,” he told the Post. “Here, everybody is competing with everybody over roads and space. Israel has third-world-level transportation chaos.”
Due to COVID-19, some people sold their car to make ends meet, and many began to seek work in delivery services. As many people began working from home to reduce the risk of being infected, the demand for electric scooters went up, especially in cities.
“The human factor is what causes 90% of accidents,” Dr. Ilit Oppenheim, director of the Shlomo Shmeltzer Institute for Smart Transportation at Tel Aviv University, told the Post. “The other factors are infrastructure and vehicles.”
A strong supporter of the view that this is not an either-or issue, she said a revolution in how people commute is beginning.
Oppenheim cited General Motors’ OnStar service as an example. When users have technical troubles with their car, all they need to do is place a finger on the dashboard, and a signal for help is sent, she said.
“The future will be about vehicle-to-everything [V2X] communication,” Oppenheim said. “A car will ‘speak’ with electric scooters around it, as well as with traffic lights and pedestrians who have mobile phones.”
This would be effective in several ways, she said. For example, an emergency vehicle would get a clear path to the hospital as it would “speak” to all other cars on the road, as well as with traffic lights, not to mention “telling” the hospital emergency room to prepare to accept the patient.
Until then, “we need to offer a holistic solution” to save lives on the road during COVID-19, Oppenheim said.