'Gov't has failed to stop highway carnage'

The State Comptroller's Report offered an alarming picture of safety on the country's highways. While images of bombed-out buses loom high in public memory, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss spared no words in emphasizing the greater risk facing Israelis on the road - their fellow citizens and a failed government security net that fell short of its goal to stop the carnage on the highways. Describing the war against traffic accidents as "a national mission in modern society and specifically in Israel," Lindenstrauss detailed a series of failures, placing responsibility on the shoulders of the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA)and the Transportation, Health and Internal Security ministries. "The governmental struggle against traffic accidents is touched by serious failures, disorder and lack of planning," he wrote. In the year that the report examines, 2004, road deaths rose by 6 percent after years of declining fatalities. That year, more than 450 people were killed in traffic accidents. In contrast, 124 soldiers and civilians were killed in terror attacks that year. According to the report, NRSA, created to facilitate interministerial and interorganizational collaboration in preventing accidents, "failed to meet its own goals because of the vast gap between the goals stated in its establishment and the tools it was given to carry out those goals." Lindenstrauss cited its lack of budgetary authority and the fact that the authority has no oversight of the Transportation Ministry's investment in infrastructure projects to improve safety. The failures, however, only begin with NRSA. Lindenstrauss found multiple ministries shortcoming in carrying out their part in this "national mission." The Education Ministry, Lindenstrauss noted, maintains no documentation of accidents involving ministry-sponsored transportation for pupils residing far from their schools. Furthermore, while it set out safety regulations for such transports, there is no system for reporting violations or for ensuring they are corrected. The comptroller directed a large part of the report to accident investigation and prosecution of traffic offenders. Traffic investigators, he noted, are mandated to investigate every collision in which people are killed or seriously injured, and at least some collisions in which victims suffer only light-to-moderate injuries. In actuality, the report said, the number of investigations carried out is "small." Lindenstrauss found that of the 105,000 accidents for which police files were opened in 2004, only 18% were ever investigated. In fact, collision investigators arrived on the scene of the accident in less than half of the reported cases of minor accidents (not involving serious injury or loss of life). Even in cases where thorough investigations are carried out, and suspects are apprehended for collisions and other traffic violations, the chances that they will be punished are slim. Police and Transportation Ministry officials estimate that 180,000 drivers whose licenses were revoked or suspended are on the road today. In fact, of the 10,000 drivers whose licenses were revoked during the period examined, 74% never handed them over to the authorities. Those, however, are only the drivers whose offenses were actually recorded. The report estimated that 2,000,000 accumulated points were never registered on offenders' licenses because police failed to hand over the paperwork to the Licensing Authority. In October 2004, police and the Transportation Ministry outlined a series of steps through which they hoped to combat to combat the problem of offenders driving with revoked licenses. The police, however, Lindenstrauss said, never followed through. In fact, the report mentions instances when police, upon apprehending people who committed traffic offenses while driving with expired licenses, simply wrote a ticket and allowed them to continue. After the report was released, the Green Light Movement, an organization working for greater road safety, called on the government to reform the NRSA, giving it statutory independence and a guaranteed budget as a government agency. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz was unable to comment on the report, saying that he was still studying it and its implications.