Lower speed limits would have saved 600 Israeli lives in past decade

Prof. Eliyahu Richter estimates that Israel's delays in adopting nationwide speed camera network have cost the country more than 150 lives annually.

car accident 88 224 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
car accident 88 224 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The lives of some 600 Israelis and 12,500 Americans lost in road accidents over the last decade could have been saved without spending a cent on improved roads or safer cars, merely by lowering speed limits, according to US-Israeli research just published in the prestigious American Journal of Public Health. The article was written by Prof. Eliyahu Richter of the Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and Prof. Lee Friedman and Dr. David Hedeker of the University of Illinois School of Public Health. Friedman was formerly a researcher in the Hebrew University Injury Prevention Program. In 1993, the High Court of Justice headed by then chief justice Aharon Barak rejected Richter's petition to lower the speed limits on Israel's highways. In 1995, US federal speed limit controls were curtailed, quickly raising the number of road fatalities and injuries. The preventible death toll due to speeding on Israeli roads was extrapolated by the authors from the US statistics in the paper, "Long-Term Effects of Repealing the National Maximum Speed Limit in the United States." Over the past decades, the UK and Australia have reduced their death tolls by 50 percent by installing nationwide networks of speed cameras. Richter estimates that Israel's delays in adopting this technology - much of it developed in Israel - have cost the country more than 150 lives annually. The Jerusalem accident prevention expert is calling on the government to expedite the implementation of decisions already made to introduce the national network here, regarding both inter-urban and urban roads. "Such a network would do much to detect and deter drunk driving at night since drinkers are notorious for traveling at excessive or inappropriate speeds. It's time to kill speeding, because speeding kills and is addictive," he insists. The researcher applied all US methods for assessing the long-term impact of increased speed limits in Israel, previously showing that nationwide the death toll from higher speed limits was 60 per year, or over 600 deaths over the course of a decade. This estimated rise, predicted by algebraic fourth-power models, was the basis of objections to Israel's raised speed limit some 15 years ago. In 1974, the authors wrote, the US federal government passed the National Maximum Speed Law, which limited driving speeds to 55 miles per hour. The intent was to lower fuel consumption in the aftermath of skyrocketing Arab oil prices after the Yom Kippur War, but in fact, US road fatalities declined from 54,052 in 1973 to 45,196 the following year. In 1995 a federal law permitted states to raise maximum speed limits on rural interstate highways to 65 mph, and all did so. Many have also since raised the maximum speed limits on urban interstate highways and non-interstate roads. The authors calculated how many road deaths were due to speeding beyond 55 mph and the types of roads where the accidents occurred, reaching the conclusion that lower limits could not only save many lives immediately, but also reduce air pollution, gas consumption, medical care for accident victims and costs associated with crashes, and save valuable years of human productivity. Their research was the first-ever evaluation of the sustained impact of raised speed limits across the US that was also extrapolated to assess the toll in Israel.