Road safety advocates slam failure to reduce traffic deaths

Katz: Or Yarok run by "manipulative political operatives interested in political head-butting and self-aggrandizement."

yisrael katz 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
yisrael katz 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Road safety advocacy group Or Yarok launched a direct personal attack on Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz during an end-of-year press conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, accusing him of failing in his job of reducing traffic deaths.
According to the group, 2010 will conclude with more than 380 road deaths, an 8-percent increase from 2009, which saw a 22% drop compared to 2008.
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In response, Katz slammed the group, claiming that it had falsified data and was operating out of political interests.
Or Yarok CEO Shmuel Aboav declared that “the year 2010 is a failure in regard to the war against traffic accidents. The grim reality points to the fact that Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz failed to stand up to his responsibilities and also avoided meeting the targets set by the Sheinin Committee and adopted by the Israeli government.”
Aboav was referring to the 2005 committee that set decreasing quotas on accident fatalities between 2005 and 2015. The committee’s recommended goal for 2010 was to drop below 360 deaths.
“The minister avoided placing targets and calling on the public to judge him according to his performance in meeting them, cynically hiding behind the statement that every person is a world unto themselves and that it is improper to measure death rates,” said Or Yarok founder and chairman Avi Naor.
The group’s report provided a collection of bleak figures regarding accident victims for 2010. It found that Israel was first among developed countries in child deaths as a result of traffic accidents. The figures also showed that 44 motorcyclists died this year, an increase of 29% from the previous year.
Another population segment that saw an increase in deaths was pedestrians, with 124 deaths, a 7% increase from 2009 – placing Israel third among developed countries in pedestrian fatalities.
An increase of 15% was registered for deaths as a result of accidents occurring within urban centers, with intercity roads showing a 3% reduction in casualties.
The Or Yarok report slammed Katz on a range of other actions he took or failed to take, particularly when it came to the National Road Safety Authority, which, the report said, instead of fighting against traffic accidents, was fighting for its existence.
The report noted that the authority had gone without a director-general for a year and a half, comparing the situation to the IDF functioning without a chief of staff. Or Yarok blasted a NIS 200 million cut to the authority’s annual budget of NIS 550m. in 2010 and warned of further cuts in 2011.
In addition, the report attacked Katz for failing to set aside budgets for road safety education in the schools, a program that has been mandatory since the early ’90s but was cut in 2010. It also stated that Katz had failed to allocate sufficient funds for Traffic Police enforcement, which meant that “more reckless drivers will take to the roads and more drunk drivers will get behind the wheel.”
Katz’s response was not long in coming. A press release from the Transportation Ministry spokesman, issued hours after the Or Yarok press conference, accused the group of conducting a “provocative propaganda campaign against the minister.”
“Or Yarok, which claims to be the spearhead of the battle against traffic accidents, has turned into a private interest body run by manipulative political operatives, who take advantage of limitless budgets at their disposal for the sake of political head-butting and self-aggrandizement,” read the statement. “Even before Minister Katz took office, the group launched a personal, toxic campaign against him, costing millions of shekels, a campaign that excelled in particularly bad taste, using the blood of the victims and hurting the dignity of the deceased and their families,” the statement continued.
“The propagandists of Or Yarok, who have a tendency to distort the facts, claim that 2010 was a complete failure in the war against traffic accidents, in spite of the fact that while there was an 8% increase in deaths this year, we are still in an overall downward trend in recent years,” it contended.
“The false accusations and the propaganda of Or Yarok will not deter the Ministry of Transportation and the man at its head from continuing its uncompromising battle against traffic accidents,” read the statement.
Prof. Eliyahu Richter of the Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, recently wrote an open letter to Katz and the cabinet ministers along the same vein as Or Yarok, accusing Katz of “administrative manslaughter” over his decision from several months ago to increase speed limits in the country.
“We call upon Minister of Transportation Israel Katz to cancel his decision to raise maximum speed limits to 110 kph (and enforcement thresholds to 120 kph). This decision will kill more drivers, passengers and pedestrians everywhere. What is needed are lower speed limits, more speed cameras to enforce these limits, and shifts to much more public transportation,” read the letter signed by five other experts.
“Since Katz has become Transport Minister, road deaths have increased 10%, after a large drop in 2009,” read the letter. “If the government does not cancel Katz’s decision and fire him, then the public should consider it... negligent in its first responsibility: protecting the life and safety of its citizens.”
The Transportation Ministry did not respond to the letter by press time.