For ways to prevent road deaths, Israel should learn others' lessons

Prof. Elihu Richter, head of the Center for Injury Prevention at the Jerusalem's Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine, said Monday that the only way to bring down the death toll on Israel's roads was for drivers to kill their speed. "If you kill speed, then deaths go down," said Richter, who last year headed a team of Israeli researchers studying the reasons for high road fatality rates in the US compared to lower figures in the United Kingdom. While the resulting paper - entitled "Death and Injury from Motor Vehicle Crashes: A Tale of Two Countries" - does not cover Israel directly, Richter said that this country's policymakers could learn much from comparing road-safety data in other countries. "People always find excuses or think it is a coincidence that there are so many fatalities on the roads," said Richter, "but if they see that the same thing is happening in other places then they will realize it is not a coincidence. A 1 percent increase in speed means a 4% increase in deaths." "Overall trends show that in the US and Israel the severity of the crashes is increasing," he said. Richter's paper, which was published last year, sought to determine why road deaths had dropped by 33.9% in the United Kingdom, compared to 6.5% in the US, between 1990 and 1999. The study found that the introduction of speed cameras and other speed-reducing measures in the UK, in contrast to the raising of speed limits in the US, accounted for that reduction. The study also found that if the US had implemented UK-type speed control policies and not raised speed limits, "there would have been an estimated 6,500 to 10,000 [about 16% to 25%] fewer road deaths per year" from 1996 to 1999. Based on the experience of the UK, Australia and France, the authors noted that "reductions of up to 50% are now achievable based on newer population-wide strategies for speed control." Zelda Harris, spokeswoman for road-safety organization Metuna said that there needed to be stiffer punishments in Israel for speeding drivers or for those who broke the law. "We can't just blame the drivers; we have to blame the policy makers. New policies - such as impounding the cars of drivers breaking the law [which was implemented last week] - only take place after the crime or death has happened. We have to stop people before they commit the crimes." She said Metuna was actively promoting the implementation of speed cameras in Israel but so far most of the official bodies involved were not overly enthusiastic. "Speed and fast cars sell, not speed-control cameras," commented Harris.