Angels Among Us: Keep your eyes on the road

Talking on a cell phone while driving is one of the leading causes of accidents in this country, says volunteer traffic policeman Gabby Elad.

Talking on a cell phone while driving is one of the leading causes of accidents in this country, says Gabby Elad. "The drivers focus on the phone and not on the wheel. It is a very dangerous device," he asserts. Exceeding the speed limit and not wearing a seatbelt are two other motor vehicle violations that cause major damage and injury, he says. As a volunteer with the Jerusalem Police Traffic Department for the past nine years, the 51-year-old Elad is dedicated to trying to reduce the number of accidents in the city. In his capacity as a volunteer, he does everything that a regular traffic cop does. Clad in his traffic police uniform, he gives tickets, directs traffic during traffic jams, or goes to the scene of an accident to write a report and attend to the injured. And in the event of a terrorist attack, he and his fellow volunteers rush to the site to provide whatever assistance is required. While he is slated to work one afternoon a week, Elad is often called upon to work extra shifts if there are special events or circumstances. As it turns out, it seems as if "Every week there is something special," he says. Just recently, for example, there were Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. "And for the pope's visit, the whole city was closed," he says. "My unit worked five days that week for 12 or 14 hours a day, standing out in the sun. It was very difficult," he stresses. "I don't think people appreciate the hard work the traffic police do. They are not well paid, and they don't get any overtime. They deserve a lot more respect from the public," he says. Especially since their prime objective is to help avoid accidents and save lives. A former tank commander in the IDF, Elad felt duty bound to offer his services to the city in some way once he stopped doing army reserve duty. "I volunteered with the police, and they sent me to the traffic department," says Elad, who owns a gas station of the Delek franchise in Jerusalem. "I try to give an adult touch to the job," he says. "I don't do it every day, so I can approach the task from another perspective, in a more calm and relaxed manner." There are a few hundred male and female traffic volunteers. The average age is 50 to 60, but there are some younger and older. One is eligible to volunteer until age 71. The volunteers undergo special training courses to prepare them for the job, as well as doing practice exercises in the field. They learn about police work and the hierarchy of the police department and are trained in such aspects as proper police ethics, how to write a ticket; how to behave in court; how to act toward civilians - and how to shoot a gun. There are inherent dangers to the job, Elad admits. "People are not always… nice," he says cautiously. "We try to watch each other's back." On the day-to-day level, Elad maintains that it is a very important job. The traffic police serve not only as deterrents but also as educators. "It is safer to have more eyes on the road," Elad asserts. "I think more people should volunteer for this," he says. "When drivers see us, they try to behave like normal drivers," he says. "They don't want to get a ticket. And when we stop a car, we try to explain to the driver what he did wrong. For example, if a child is sitting in the back seat and not wearing a seatbelt, the diver is endangering that child's life," says Elad, who will then give the driver a lecture or a ticket. Bottom line, this is what the veteran volunteer would advise any driver: "Keep your eyes on the road. Watch what the other drivers are doing. Pay strict attention to the traffic. You can be the best driver in the world, but the car behind you or coming up next to you could be a problem. Obey the traffic rules. Mind the speed limit. Don't drink and drive. Wear your seatbelt. And don't talk on the phone."