Driven to distraction: The search for 'black spots'

In a few weeks, summer break will begin for more than a million pupils, and many families will take to the country's roads, driving everywhere from Metulla to Eilat in search of the perfect vacation. While careful parents will do everything to ensure their family's safety, making sure that the journey itself is as safe as possible is not simple. Drivers inquiring about which roads are safe and which are not face layers of bureaucracy and unanswered telephone calls. The request might seem simple enough: a list of the country's most dangerous junctions and road segments, made readily accessible so that drivers can avoid or exercise extra care in those areas. But pursuing it, The Jerusalem Post found, is far from straightforward. A starting point for the search might logically be the Web site of the Transportation Ministry, but the concerned motorist will come away empty-handed. If, however, motorists wade through the myriad links on the home page and locate the link to the National Road Safety Authority, they will find a link called "red roads." This site offers an interactive map where visitors can click on a segment of one of the country's major roads and see the collision-death statistics for that segment. But the specified segments are vast - for instance, the 150 km. stretch of Route 90 from the Tzemah junction to the Beit Ha'arava junction. There is no listing or detail on the specific dangerous spots on those segments, acknowledged Sarit Levy, in charge of providing public information centers for the ministry. The ministry's spokesman's office said it was not familiar with any such specific list anywhere, while other ministry officials said such a list certainly existed and promised to find it. The spokesman's office for the National Road Safety Authority, which was established in 1997 to coordinate and supervise all activites relating to the prevention of road crashes, referred requests for such a list to the Israel National Roads Company, which is responsible for the interurban road system, traffic management and control, planning, development and maintenance of the roads and their safety. The INRC, which cites as its vision "safety, quality and comfort at a high standard level of service for users of the interurban roads," proved equally unable to provide an elusive list of "black spots" on the roads, telling the Post that "official data on vehicle collisions on the nation's roads is gathered by the Israel Police." Asked if the public can access information on the location of such danger areas, INRC spokesman Benny Rom wrote, "News articles about vehicle collisions are published in all media venues and are widely reported." "The NRSA, the INRC, Israel Police and the Or Yarok Foundation work both separately and together to raise awareness of careful driving on all roads," Rom added. He emphasized that his company recognizes the centrality of safety and looks into every accident's causes. The National Traffic Police confirmed that it does keep raw data on collisions and said that if it were requested, such a list would be easy to provide. Off the "top of my head," Asst.-Cmdr. Yossi Hatukay, commander of the National Traffic Police's Research Division, offered as an example the three-and-a-half kilometer stretch of Route 66 between Megiddo and Yokne'am, where 10 people were killed in collisions in recent years. He cited poor sight lines and multiple small intersections as factors in the deadly crashes. But this dangerous area - indeed Route 66 entirely - is not included on the NRSA's interactive map of "red roads." The safety-conscious driver would have no way of knowing of this rural road's deadly potential. In fact, only seven of the 13 most dangerous "black spots" in the Northern District are located on roads highlighted as "red roads" by NRSA map. Even if would-be drivers did rely on the "red roads" map, they would be in trouble if their Hebrew was not up to par. The "red roads" and all other interactive links on the site are only available in Hebrew. Six succinct pages offer text-only resources in English and Arabic and do not include any listing of dangerous roads. Levy said the English and Arabic Web sites would be undergoing changes soon, to bring them closer to the Hebrew version. "They are doing not only a disservice but it is almost an indictment against the government offices that the public is exposed to these dangers without being informed," said Zelda Harris, public relations director and founder of Metuna, an organization pushing for greater road safety. "Sometimes the infrastructure of the roads can't be changed, but signs and public awareness could be raised as to the danger of these areas." Harris said. "Signs could inform people that they were in an area that is dangerous. Paint is so cheap compared to lives."