To the point: Changing the driving culture

"Why on earth should learning to drive an automatic car take 28 lessons?!"

Vehicles drive on a highway in the central Israeli city of Tel Aviv December 17, 2013.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Vehicles drive on a highway in the central Israeli city of Tel Aviv December 17, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
IN 2003, toward the end of my first three years in Israel (the grace period for converting a foreign license to an Israeli one), I realized that I couldn’t put off the conversion test any longer. So, I had a couple of lessons – and then I broke my right arm. And so began the race against time.
I wrote to the relevant authorities and asked for an extension as the cast might not be off in time to take a test. As the deadline approached without a response, I realized I would have to take drastic action. I scheduled another driving lesson and booked a test. Still no response from the Licensing Bureau. Wearing a steel-reinforced wrist brace, I took the test, passing it the first time. A few days later, I received permission to delay it.
Why am I telling you all this? Because of the issues my experience raises about driving in Israel. First, I had put off taking the test because of a deep reluctance to face the daily ordeal of driving on roads, which seem to be populated largely by those I call the “Kamikazes” or, in mameloshen, the “meshuggenes,” the drivers who streak past other drivers who are already driving well over the speed limit, cutting them off from the right-hand lane (either signaling while already diverging or not signaling at all) and squeezing past them with centimeters to spare.
Second is the licensing system, which requires an inordinate minimum number of driving lessons and exorbitant add-on costs to take the license test. Not to mention the instructors and examiners about whom a Comptroller’s committee report of 2015 found “have made more than 130 million shekels ($33.7 million) more per year than their average salaries on the backs of student drivers.” One possible cause, the report said, was that 80 percent of student drivers “fail their first driving exam due to insufficient supervision or regulation over driving courses and the level of learning.”
AT AN average of 130 shekels a lesson (28 lessons minimum, which is often massively exceeded, plus test costs), acquiring a driver’s license can cost upwards of 4,000 shekels. Why on earth should learning to drive an automatic car take even 28 lessons?!
This might be justified if Israel’s drivers were among the best in the world and the local rates of road fatalities and injuries were among the lowest. But they aren’t and we have to ask why not.
Despite better technology (e.g., Mobileye), better roads and improved medical treatment, the road toll in Israel has increased over the past five years. Most state road safety agencies and NGOs attribute this to reduced police enforcement and presence (there used to be 650 traffic police, today there are 300), caused by reduced funding.
For an excellent analysis, see “The Danger of Israel’s Roads: Who Is to Blame? by David Brinn ( dummies-486885), in which he quotes a number of experts on this counter-intuitive rise.
Among these experts is Shmuel Aboav, former CEO of Or Yarok, the Association for Safer Driving in Israel, who, while endorsing the received wisdom of the other experts, doesn’t believe driving habits here are any different from those anywhere else. Peculiarly, he doesn’t “think that drivers are more reckless here,” in direct contradiction to the view of Giora Rom, the director of the Israel National Road Safety Authority, who says the “behavior of some drivers on the roads is the biggest problem, not infrastructure or enforcement.”
I agree wholeheartedly. People cause accidents.
Police in the Australian state of Victoria have identified the following factors: speed (keeping within limits and conditions), impairment (drugs, alcohol), distraction (mobile phones), fatigue and not wearing seat belts.
Add to that Israeli drivers’ recklessness, sense of entitlement and lack of courtesy for others and you have a deadly mix that only early driver education (and education of driving instructors) will overcome.