If the 2008 budget is approved as planned, road safety programs will be shut down and/or reduced, National Road Safety Authority head Lior Carmel said Thursday. Carmel, whose budget was significantly reduced from 2007 to 2008, has written a letter to Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, detailing what Carmel described as "a serious blow" to efforts to reduce the number of accidents. "If this budget is approved, we simply will not be able to say that the State of Israel makes the maximum possible effort to prevent crashes," said Carmel.
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The planned cuts, Carmel explained, would affect nine specific program areas, all designed to reduce the number of road fatalities throughout the country. The ministry, according to Carmel, had already invested NIS 46 million in a program that would require all high school graduates to receive a passing grade in road safety in order to receive their matriculation certificate. That program, Carmel said, will not go into effect in 2008 as planned if the budget is passed in its current form.
Similarly, the NRSA will also be forced to reduce a current program that teaches soldiers how to be both safer drivers and more aware passengers. Last year, Carmel said, the program offered instruction to approximately 20,000 soldiers, and follow-up studies commissioned by the revealed that those Carmel termed "our soldiers" were simply not involved in fatal crashes.
Funding to private road safety and advocacy organizations will also disappear, according to Carmel, as will a plan to raise "local awareness." The NRSA had intended to air locally-targeted ads in movie theaters informing viewers of dangerous road segments near each specific theater.
Carmel is also angry that 50 fewer traffic circles will be built as a result of cuts to the organization's infrastructure budget. Studies have shown that the circles have reduced collisions at intersections by 57-100 percent.
The NRSA head attributes the lack of funding to a social mind-set that turns a blind eye to road safety. "We have a deep social problem in how we look at car crashes," he said. "In Israeli society, there is a hierarchy of death. We treat it as much more serious when people are killed because of security-related incidents like terror attacks. But when a child gets killed in a car crash, it barely even gets a mention in the news."
Carmel, a Kadima member, is a co-founder of the NRSA and is furious at fellow party member Ronnie Bar-On for the cuts. He is even more angry at rumors that the organization's budget was slashed because they only used 30% of the funds granted them last year.
"This is simply completely untrue," Carmel responded to the claim. "We have put all of our budget to use. We owe money to the police, to other governmental bodies. But we can't give them the money we owe them without a bill - and they don't send out bills until the end of the budget year. The money is all spent - we just haven't handed over the cash yet, so to speak."
But the NRSA head said he was certain the budget cut would not pass a Knesset vote.
"I am completely convinced that a public outcry will erupt, because it is people who will suffer in the end from the cuts," Carmel explained.
He said that given an unlimited budget, traffic fatalities could be reduced drastically by "removing contact between pedestrians and traffic." A full 35% of vehicle-related fatalities in Israel are a result of contact between pedestrians and traffic, so Carmel believes a perfect budget would be one that could allow for massive infrastructure overhaul to reduce such contact.