Knesset belatedly creates committee for road safety

Committee to address "the number one killer of Israelis" spurred by fatal crash last year that killed four members of one family.

Deadly car accident 311 (photo credit: ZAKA / Tzvika Level)
Deadly car accident 311
(photo credit: ZAKA / Tzvika Level)
Kadima MK Robert Tibayev won a small battle in the war on traffic accidents Monday night when the Knesset Economics Committee approved the creation of a subcommittee on road safety, a forum that will take to task government inaction in adequately addressing what is often termed “the No. 1 killer of Israelis,” The Jerusalem Post learned on Tuesday.
“Obviously I am delighted that this committee has been created,” Tibayev, who will chair the subcommittee, told the Post.
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“There are many issues that we need to examine now, especially why the number of traffic accidents increased last year by 11 percent. We need to understand what is happening here in order to reduce that number.”
He added, “The whole of the Western world has managed to reduce the number of road deaths and there is no reason we cannot do the same in Israel. We need to create a real agenda and prioritize.”
Tibayev, who has been vocal on this issue for a number of years, was spurred to push for a parliamentary committee on the matter after meeting this past summer with US-born Bryan Atinsky, whose wife Efrat, two children Noam, five, and Ya’ari, nine months, and mother-in-law Esther Gamliel were killed in a traffic accident last year.
“The number of people killed on the roads [over the years] is more than 30,000 and that is more than those killed in all the wars of Israel,” Tibayev said. “We are in a war against this every day and someone needs to raise the gloves and take action.” He said that he planned to hold Transportation Minister Israel Katz and his ministry, which oversees the National Road Safety Authority, responsible for tackling this problem. Katz has been criticized by advocates of road safety in recent months for not adhering to the suggestions laid out in the 2005 Sheinin Committee, which made very detailed and clear recommendations for improving conditions on the roads.
“I believe that the name of this ministry must be changed to the Transport and Road Safety Ministry,” Tibayev said. “Such a move will increase awareness of the problems.”
Shmuel Abuav, director of road safety organization Or Yarok, commented to the Post that the creation of this committee was an extremely positive step because “it will give Knesset members a forum to focus on road safety issues.” Until now, this subject had been tackled by the Knesset’s Economics Committee, which, pointed out Abuav, did not always have time to look deeply into the issues surrounding traffic accidents.
“It is the No. 1 killer of Israelis under the age of 45,” he said, adding that in contrary to the decreasing number of road deaths reported by most European countries in recent years, Israel has only seen the number grow.
According to Or Yarok figures, 388 people were killed on the roads in 2010, compared to 350 in 2009 – an increase of 10%, despite a commitment by the government to reduce road deaths by 6% annually.
“This new committee will look into these important issues and will hold the government accountable for cutting the national budget for tackling the war on traffic accidents,” continued Abuav.
The allocated budget for encouraging and enforcing road safety has gone down from NIS 550 million in 2009 to NIS 306m. in 2010, and the resources allocated to the police’s traffic department have also been reduced by nearly half over the past two years, he said.
In addition, Abuav pointed out that road safety education has seen some serious cutbacks, with the subject being removed completely from the national curriculum. Schools now decide on their own whether to provide this subject.
“Every year, there is an average of 42 children under the age of 14 killed on the roads and more than 30 young drivers 18-24 who are killed,” he said. “This is because of poor education. There is a clear lack of government responsibility in tackling this issue.”
Overall, Abuav blamed Katz for not prioritizing road safety in his budget allocations.
“I really hope this committee will shine a light on all these problems and give a forum for Knesset members to criticize and investigate this disturbing picture,” he finished.
“It was with great pleasure, tinged with sadness at my personal tragedy, that I received the notice from MK Tibayev that he was named head of a committee for the ‘war on traffic accidents,’ whose main goal is to take the Transport Ministry to task for not trying to control the No. 1 killer of Israelis,” commented Atinsky, who now lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “I hope now that this committee is effective and able to make Minister Katz take his job seriously and change the tragic situation on our roads in Israel.”
“In 2010, under Katz’s watch, there was a 10% increase in traffic deaths, that is 388 people who have needlessly lost their lives, and countless family members who now have to live the rest of their lives without their loved ones,” he added.
“When I met with Minister Katz last summer, I told him that there are two main issues that need to be dealt with immediately – the behavior of drivers and better enforcement to change that behavior through actual implementation of the existing plan to improve road safety. But I am merely an average Israeli citizen who has lost his family due to poorly implemented road safety programs, and don’t have any real power to force the Transportation Ministry to take more seriously the problem of traffic accidents.”
“It amazes me that up to this point, there was no independent and authoritative committee in the Knesset to deal with this fundamental issue,” Atinsky said.