Shock lousy drivers by comparing them to Hamas, urges UK expert

Israelis should realize that they are more effective at killing each other on roads than Hamas, expert says.

freeway ayalon 88 (photo credit: )
freeway ayalon 88
(photo credit: )
Leading UK television host Nick Ross has only been here a few times, but this has been enough for him to come up with a shock tactic that he thinks could help cut road deaths. Ross, a former chairman of the National Road Safety Committee of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in the UK, believes that Israeli drivers should be compared with Hamas. "If you want to get Israeli public attitudes more focused on the priorities of road safety, one has got to recognize that Israelis are far, far better at killing each other than Hamas," Ross told The Jerusalem Post. "Hamas... is relatively ineffective compared to Israeli drivers," he said, noting that more people die in road accidents than in terrorist attacks. Ross is the grandson of the country's first justice minister, Pinhas Rosen, and is here this week for a conference organized by road safety organization Metuna. He has become a national institution on British television through his long-running and award-winning show Crimewatch UK, which appeals to the public for help in solving crimes. In addition, he presented a road-safety program called The Biggest Epidemic of Our Times in the 1980s and a series called So You Think You're a Good Driver! several years ago. Ross used the word "epidemic" to describe Israel's road fatalities, noting that while traffic deaths in other countries have been halved, the figures in this country have dropped very little in recent years. This, he believes, is because Israel is forced to worry about security at the expense of other issues. "Israel's security, in a grand sense, is the most pressing issue. But on a day-to-day basis, if you're worried about your kids, the real campaigning issue in Israel ought to be road safety more than any other disease. It is a disease as far as doctors are concerned. As a plague that can be solved, that is the one that ought to be concentrated on," he said. "It is a paradox, because Israel, out of all the nations on Earth, treasures individual life. What Israel will do to save one life," he exclaimed. "And yet there's this extraordinary psychological blindness to all these lives that are being lost." One problem, he said, is that drivers have become unjustifiably fatalistic about road accidents. "We just assume this will happen," he said. "Nonsense. If accidents are about to happen, how come in the UK, with more traffic going faster for more miles, we've got our fatalities down from 6,500 to 3,400. We've just engineered it down. We decided that's what we were going to do." Ross said the UK was "spectacularly successful" in cutting traffic deaths by changing the situations in which people find themselves rather than trying to change their attitudes. For instance, to reduce right-turning accidents - cars in the UK drive on the left-hand side - the authorities created special lanes for vehicles to wait in before it was safe to go. "We've recognized the value of white paint. It's as simple as that. It's better than taking a million drivers and putting them back through education schemes," he said. "Instead of drivers misjudging the speed of the traffic coming the other way on the hill, and turning and getting caught, you see them going into the refuge and stopping because there's a white line there. It's how the mind works." In addition, Ross said that "you can transform things" by improving the line of sight of drivers and through traffic-calming and psychological measures. He cited the Dutch decision to turn roads into paved areas as an example of this. "The vehicle becomes a guest in the space of the pedestrian... What turns out is that the car drivers feel as comfortable, when you do polls of them, as the pedestrians. They don't feel angry," he said. While Ross believes that the best way to improve safety is by doing it without drivers noticing, he also thinks that the enforcement of traffic regulations and publicity are still important. However, he warned that drivers shouldn't be antagonized. "It's really important that you keep the public with you. This must not become a war between the police and the public. Everybody's got to be on the same side," he said. Ross added that he would like Israel to introduce cameras that measure the average speed of cars along a stretch of road rather than those that record the velocity at a particular point. This is because he reckons that drivers feel that the first system is fairer. "I think people have a much greater sense of fairness. They say, 'Okay, that's a fair cop. You know I was doing 120 on average and I should have been doing 90,'" he said.