Bill would mandate school road safety classes, but not fund them

Knesset Economics Committee approves road safety education bill, holds discussions on ways to reduce traffic fatalities.

car accident 88 (photo credit: )
car accident 88
(photo credit: )
The Knesset Economics Committee approved for first reading a road safety education bill on Tuesday and held two discussions on ways to reduce traffic fatalities. The legislation would require all students to complete road safety instruction prior to graduating from high school. It still has to be approved by the full Knesset, but the Likud's MK Gilad Erdan, one of the bill's sponsors, said he was hopeful the new requirement would take effect in the upcoming school year, which begins on September 1. "There is no logic to the fact that currently high school students must complete a physical education requirement to graduate, whereas road safety education, which can save lives, is in the category of lesson that students can ignore," Erdan said. However, the bill does not set aside funding for the classes, something that drew objections from Education Ministry officials. "The Education Ministry has funding for road safety education only at the elementary school level, and if new funding is not provided the new requirement is not feasible," said Rahel Rotem, who is in charge of road safety at the ministry. Since the Finance Ministry had reportedly declined to budget road safety classes, the Education Ministry representatives said the bill's goal could more realistically be reached if the new requirement were not mandated by a new law but tacked on to the law that created the National Road Safety Authority, making the authority responsible for finding the money. However, authority representatives said it already provided much funding for road safety education and that the Education Ministry was trying to avoid its obligations. "The Education Ministry wants to educate but not to fund," said Tslil Yitzhak, head of the authority's community education division. "Maybe the authority should fund all of education [in Israel]." Erdan and MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima), the other sponsor of the bill, said that at this point of the legislative process the most important thing was to institute a road safety education requirement, even if it meant that students would receive the limited number of lessons that are currently funded in the ministry's budget. "It is fine if we pass the law [in the committee meeting] with no funding and then address the funding later in the process," they said. Earlier in the day, the committee discussed ways to improve the behavior and attitude of Israeli drivers, at the request of MK Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism). He said an improved public transportation system could reduce the number of drivers on the road while at the same time, the state could find a better way to shape the behavior of drivers. "Almost all the remedies have been tried, but they have not led to improvement of the condition on the roads," Ravitz said. "We must employ a creative and completely new way of thinking." The discussion comes after the European Transport Safety Council ranked Israel eighth among 30 "European" countries for the lowest rate of traffic accident deaths in the council's annual Road Safety Performance Index. Aharon Lapidot, a spokesperson for the Or Yarok traffic safety NGO, which provided the council with the Israeli road statistics, said the relatively positive ranking must be put in context. According to Lapidot, Western Europe had double the ratio of cars to people as Israel and so the high ranking was not entirely indicative of reality. Lapidot said Or Yarok supported the ideas that were discussed in the Economics Committee meeting, but that both new laws and a change in the public's attitude toward public transportation were needed. Ravitz said the he hoped the meeting would be the first in a series of events that would make the government act without the need for the Knesset to pass laws. "Little by little, we need to persuade the hearts, minds and pockets of decision-makers," he said.