Death on the roads

Traveling on Route 90 and other highways should not be a game of Russian roulette. Too many lives have already been lost and families destroyed.

Scene of deadly accident on Route 90 (photo credit: FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE)
Scene of deadly accident on Route 90
More lives were lost on the road in Israel yesterday. The death toll is unbearable. In yesterday’s accident, which is still being investigated, six people were killed and five injured at the Petzael Junction in the Jordan Valley when a truck collided with a minibus carrying workers from east Jerusalem to a factory in the Beit She’an area.
Our hearts are still breaking over last week’s tragedy on a different section of the same road, Route 90. On Tuesday, which was a vacation day due to the municipal elections, all eight members of the nuclear Atar family were wiped out.
Read that again. A family of eight will never again go on a family outing, never again sing songs and laugh together, never return home at the end of the day. The parents, Yariv (45) and Shoshi (47) as well as their children: Yaakov Israel (12), Ateret (11), Ayala (9), Moria (7), Yedid (5), and Avigail (3), were killed when their van went up in flames after being hit head on when the driver of a vehicle swerved out of the opposite lane near Ein Bokek, close to the Dead Sea. The driver of the vehicle that hit the Atars’ van faces possible manslaughter charges.
Last month, just two weeks before the Atar family was killed, Kfir and Shira Avitan (both 28) and their 10-month-old daughter, Gaia, also perished on the same road when a bus collided also head on with their car as they traveled on Route 90 near the Dead Sea. Another family is no more. In that case, the bus driver reportedly lost control following a technical malfunction.
In less than a month, 17 people have died on Route 90; more than 125 people have been killed on that road in 1,350 accidents in the last decade. These are shocking figures. The medics who had to deal with the aftermath of the crash, in which all of the members of the Atar family were trapped and died in their burning vehicle, likened the scene to a terrorist attack – and these accidents should certainly be taken as seriously as the terrorism threat.
Route 90 is one of the longest in the country, stretching some 480 kilometers from the North of the country to Eilat in the South. In that sense, it is not surprising that it witnesses a relatively greater number of accidents compared to other highways. But its length alone does not explain the high casualty rate.
The road was originally built in the 1960s, although sections have been upgraded since. Many of the vehicles that use it carry more than one passenger, which also raises the casualty rate from accidents. The main problems, according to road safety experts, are: The road is too narrow for such a central highway – one lane in each direction; it is poorly lit, full of dangerous bends and has narrow margins; and above all, it lacks a divider between the lanes.
In radio and newspaper interviews after the tragedies, Erez Kita, who heads the Or Yarok road safety NGO, called Route 90 “The Road of Death.” According to Kita, a simple divider could help drastically reduce the number of victims. Even if many accidents are caused by human error – or human failing, such as being distracted or falling asleep at the wheel – decent infrastructure, including a divider, could help.
Lack of patience, a well-known Israeli trait, also comes at a cost. Drivers are unwilling to wait and are willing to take their lives in their hands – and not only their own lives – by trying to overtaking cars in front of them despite being unable to see what lies ahead.
Traveling on Route 90 and other highways should not be a game of Russian roulette. Too many lives have already been lost and families destroyed. The Finance Ministry and Transportation Ministry must find the necessary budgets and means to upgrade this and other major routes, with broader shoulders, better lighting and a hard divider. At the immediate level, there is a need for an increased police presence and enforcement on these roads.
Nothing can bring back those who have been killed in traffic accidents, but their deaths should serve as a wake-up call. The death toll and tragedy on the country’s roads cannot be considered acceptable.