By RON FRIEDMAN
Tens of thousands of commuters were stuck near Hadera on Sunday morning, in what is being called the country’s worst-ever traffic jam, after a truck carrying building supplies overturned in the middle of Highway 2, the Coastal Highway from Haifa to Tel Aviv.Southbound motorists were at a standstill for about six hours before a crane arrived to right the truck so it could be towed away and the debris cleared.The truck, which left the Haifa Port at 5:30 in the morning, overturned near the Havatzelet intersection, south of Hadera, at 6:40, when the driver lost control of the vehicle, which skidded and flipped on its side, blocking both southbound lanes. The driver was slightly injured and was taken to the hospital as a long column of cars formed behind the scene of the crash, stretching all the way to Haifa.It took the police nearly six hours to bring in a tow truck, which cleared away the wreck at 12:30 p.m. Meanwhile, cars were unable to move and the blockage caused gridlock on all off ramps and alternative routes, including the old Haifa-Tel Aviv road, Highway 4.Police reported that in an early debriefing, the driver, 46, said he was forced to swerve because of another vehicle. The driver is said to have an extensive record of traffic violations.Sharon region traffic police spokesman Ch.-Supt. David Bar-Chanin said the congestion was to be expected, seeing as Highway 2 is a major transportation artery.“The section of the road that the accident occurred in was one with only two [southbound] lanes. Had the accident occurred further south we could have enabled traffic to pass through the third lane, but at the present site, it was simply impossible because the truck blocked both lanes,” he said.AdvertisementBar-Chanin said it was too early to be certain about the cause of the accident, but that the police was not ruling out the possibility that the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.Bar-Chanin said truck drivers had strict regulations concerning work hours and that the truck’s driving log would be examined to determine whether the driver had met the rest requirements, but noted that since the accident took place early on Sunday morning, it was unlikely that the driver had been on the job for long and had suffered from work-related fatigue.Transportation Ministry regulations state a driver of a vehicle weighing over 6,000 kilograms may not begin work unless he has had seven hours off. A driver is also prohibited from driving for more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period and must take a half-hour break every four hours, so as to remain alert.David Kochva, in charge of driver education at the Israel Road Transport Board, explained that every truck carries a tachograph, an electronic device that logs the driver’s work hours and the truck’s driving history. He said the instrument would reveal if the driver had violated regulations, but he also doubted that work-related fatigue was the cause of Sunday’s accident, because of its timing.“The problem isn’t that the drivers are tired, the problem is that they have no safety awareness,” said Kochva. “We run safety workshops for drivers at the Road Transport Board and have to drag people by force to attend. Things are relatively OK at the big companies, where they have some sort of training and disciplinary mechanisms, but at the smaller companies or independent truck owners, there is nothing in place to address safety issues. Drivers can be on the road for 30 years without having once attended a professional workshop or safety briefing.”Kochva said the board has repeatedly urged the Transportation Ministry to make the workshops mandatory. “In the past year we have held workshops for 1,000 drivers and 100 safety officers, and are scheduled to meet with 1,000 more, but it’s a drop in the sea,” he said.There are more than 37,000 heavy truck drivers working in the country, Kochva said.The police are ill equipped to enforce driver’s rest regulations, he said. “If the driver isn’t pulled over for a traffic violation, the chances of him or her falling prey to a random examination are minute,” said Kochva.Bar-Chanin said Sharon region police conducted 15-20 random inspections on truck drivers a day.“If the police wanted to enforce the regulations strictly, they couldset up checkpoints on the main truck routes, in the exits from ports orquarries for example, but it probably wouldn’t change anything,” saidKochva.He also cited a worrying lack of regulations when it comes toprocedures for ensuring that cargo stays on the trucks. “There are nostandards for loading and securing cargoes. Each driver does what hethinks is right based on experience or instructions he receives frommanagement. Apart from height regulations, it’s anything goes.”During the six-hour wait, social relationships developed between thestranded motorists. With nowhere to go, they formed friendships basedon their common plight. Army Radio quoted one woman who said she wasgrateful for the traffic jam as it enabled her to spend rare qualitytime with her husband.
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