Israelis need to take road safety seriously - opinion

Many, many lives are lost on Israel’s roads each year and not enough is being done to prevent it. Instead, the state of the roads here is a source of much mirth.

 HEAVY TRAFFIC on the Ayalon Highway. Last year saw the highest number of road traffic accident deaths since 2017, with 361 Israelis killed. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
HEAVY TRAFFIC on the Ayalon Highway. Last year saw the highest number of road traffic accident deaths since 2017, with 361 Israelis killed.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

“Never get in the way of an older car that needs extensive bodywork.”

“Turn signals will give away your next move. A real Israeli driver never uses them.”

“The faster you drive through a red light, the smaller the chance you have of getting hit.”

“Braking is to be done as hard and late as possible to ensure that your ABS kicks in, giving a nice, relaxing foot massage as the brake pedal pulsates. For those of you without ABS, it’s a chance to stretch your legs.”

It is a widely held belief that Israelis are notoriously bad drivers, spawning numerous jokes such as those listed above under the satirical heading, Basic Rules For Driving In Israel.

A car crash in Nayot, Jerusalem, October 2017 (credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)A car crash in Nayot, Jerusalem, October 2017 (credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)

The sad reality, however, is that many, many lives are lost on Israel’s roads each year and not enough is being done to prevent it. Instead, the state of the roads here is a source of much mirth.

During the course of my research for this article, I found, tucked away on the government website, a section entitled “National Road Safety Authority.” In there, the “Drive slower, it won’t kill nobody” 2020 campaign, aiming to highlight the dangers of speeding, could be found. According to the government, although speeding is the cause of 30% of all deaths on the road and those who do so are taking “a gamble on human life,” over half of all Israeli drivers speed.

The following year, in 2021, the “you can still fix it” campaign was launched. In reality it was much the same as the previous one, in so far as it aimed to make drivers slow down, concluding with a reminder to, “Drive 10 km/h less. It won’t kill you. But you’ll still be able to save other people’s lives.”

“Drive 10 km/h less. It won’t kill you. But you’ll still be able to save other people’s lives.”

2021 road safety campaign

These two campaigns, sadly, had no effect whatsoever; the number of deaths on the roads here is still staggering.

Last year saw the highest number of road traffic accident deaths since 2017, with 361 Israelis killed; nearly one person killed each day, including 56 new drivers. A more effective and prominent road safety campaign, targeting all ages, is desperately needed. Harsher punishments for road traffic infringements may be one solution, but can only go so far.

As the government website states, men are the worst culprits in this regard and those who regularly exceed the speed limit often do so in the mistaken belief that, “they are decent and careful drivers and are well in control of their vehicle even when going over the speed limit.”

THE SITUATION which persists on Israeli roads is a blight on society.

For a country which devotes so much time and energy to remembering fallen soldiers and victims of terror (and rightly so), deaths on the roads go largely unnoticed – as if, somehow, they are less of a tragedy.

To underscore the point, according to the IDF, last year, only one soldier was killed in combat, but 10 times that number perished in car crashes.

To those not directly affected by deaths on the road, maybe they are less significant, unlike the collective wave of emotion which grips the nation when a soldier falls in the line of duty or a person is killed in a terror attack.

The repercussions caused by road traffic deaths, however, are no less tragic for those left behind.

As the mother of two soldiers, one of whom is in a combat unit, I am acutely aware of the dangers which they face in the army.

That said, I am also cognizant of the grim fact that, whatever the dangers they may face during their service, they are equalled, if not eclipsed by the dangers they face behind the wheel of a car. A sobering thought.

As a Brit – who grew up on a diet of road safety campaigns in which the perils of speeding, not wearing a seat belt, drinking and driving and latterly texting and driving, (something which seems to be prevalent here) – I find it hard to understand why more isn’t being done to address the problems on the roads.

Attitudes toward driving need to change.

The celebrated, macho “boy racer” image should be shunned and those who engage in such hazardous pursuits – for example, weaving in and out of heavy traffic – should face much harsher penalties. Road safety campaigns should also be a part of the school curriculum from very early on, thus making children aware of the very real dangers which they themselves may face and even pose to others should they not respect the rules of the road.

It’ll take a long time for Israel to throw off its image of being a country where the driving is so bad that it’s a joke, but by highlighting the obscene number of innocent lives cut short on the roads here, people may start to realize that daily tragedies are occurring, which really isn’t something to be taken lightly – and certainly isn’t something to laugh about.

The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.