Comment: This tragedy is ours

It is up to us to ensure that our roads are safe.

bus accident 248 88 (photo credit: Uzi Barak/Kav Press)
bus accident 248 88
(photo credit: Uzi Barak/Kav Press)
Yesterday's bus crash in the South is a tragedy. Not only for those individuals who lost their lives or "only" their limbs on the short drive from Ovda to Eilat, but for all of us - because we accept traffic accidents as a matter of course, and because we continue to allow ourselves to live with this kind of avoidable tragedy every day of the year. On an average year, the equivalent of 20 such crashes occur. This particular one will raise our awareness for a while, but in the long term our psyche will not allow us to continue to relate to traffic deaths in this way, since the accidents that kill hundreds and seriously injure thousands every year are generally spread out relatively evenly over the course of the days, weeks and months between each Yom Kippur and the next. The details of this tragic crash are not yet in, so we are only beginning to experience the traditional finger-pointing and accusations as to who, what, when and where were responsible. We are beginning to hear the promises that "this time" we will really deal "vigorously" with the problem, and we are mentally preparing ourselves for the inaction and apathy that invariably follows. "Israel deals with road accidents on a daily basis and, to our sorrow, no week goes by without Israelis and tourists, pedestrians, drivers and passengers being killed and injured," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "The number of those killed and injured is high and scarcely conceivable. Even in the shadow of this sad chronicle, today's accident is exceptional in its severity. "It obligates us, especially during the week in which we mark the issue of road safety, to reconsider the culture of driving in Israel, mutual responsibility on the roads and the need to specially train drivers who transport large numbers of people." But whether we are willing to face it or not, this is our tragedy, and we are responsible. We have allowed it to happen because as individuals, as a society and as a country, we are willing to accept the kinds of behavior that lead to such accidents. We accept as unavoidable fact that some drivers drive dangerously and violate the law. We allow road planners to design dangerous roads and to skimp on safety features. We do not sanction local and national authorities that build and maintain roads that are full of dangerous features. We allow automobile dealers to import vehicles that are not equipped with the latest safety features, to lower prices and increase sales. We allow the lessons of previous incidents to be ignored. (Everyone remembers the terrorist attack on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, which proved that standard guardrails are totally ineffective in preventing a bus from rolling over the side of a road into the chasm). Just like airplane crashes, road accidents do not just "happen"; they are caused. And just as in air safety, this means that if we were to truly act to eradicate the causes, road accidents could be avoided. That's right - if we progressively eliminate the causes of road accidents, they will diminish. We allow road accidents to occur because each of us fails to do his or her part in requiring that the causes be identified and eradicated. We allow all this at our peril. How many people do you know personally who have been injured in a road accident in Israel? Statistics show that at the current rate (over 100 people injured EVERY day), one out of two citizens will be killed or injured in a road accident over the course of his or her lifetime. That means it will either be me, or you. Metuna was instrumental in passing the law mandating that all new buses be equipped with seat belts. But it remains up to us - you and me - to insist that every passenger use those seat belts on every journey. (By the way, did you buckle up when you sat down in the bus the last time you went on a trip? Not if you were the person who was seated next to me!). We have the power to make changes happen - but only if we truly decide that we won't accept the current situation any longer, and begin to change our personal behavior and standards. It is up to us to report every dangerous violation we see - and there are effective ways to do this, even now. It is up to us to insist that our cities fix the danger spots on their roads. It is up to us to force our lawmakers to enact enforceable standards for the design and maintenance of safe roads. It is up to us to make sure that strict sentencing guidelines are provided for traffic court judges. It is up to us to ensure that our roads are safe. Because it is our tragedy. Mordechai Feder is the incoming acting director of Metuna, the Nationwide Voluntary Road Safety Organization, now based in Jerusalem, that is dedicated to saving lives on the roads.