Editorial: A road safety prayer for Yom Kippur

Let the memory of those lost encourage us to prevent the next accident from ever happening.

Their bloodstained schoolbooks were strewn along the side of the road, the detritus of young lives cut short. The sheer force of the impact scattered vehicle parts a distance of 200 meters, paramedics who arrived on the scene said.
The victims were young. Idan Kiffer was 11, Niv Nasav 13 and Daniel Amram, 14. They lived in Mevo Dotan, a settlement in north Samaria, and studied together at Omer, the regional elementary school. According to the Judea and Samaria Police, not all of the three boys were wearing seat belts.
Idan’s father Amos, who was driving the truck carrying a load of compressed gas canisters that collided with a tractor, is still in critical condition. Ata Muhammed Namarani, 35, the Palestinian driving the tractor reportedly lacking lights for night travel, was also killed.
Yet another road accident that took its toll on Wednesday night. Since the beginning of the year, 279 people have died in road accidents, up 13 percent compared to the same period last year. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, nearly 31,000 people have died on our roads – 31,000 people – more than the combined number of close to 23,000 soldiers killed in wars and almost 4,000 civilians killed in terrorist attacks.
THIS YOM KIPPUR, as we take stock of ourselves and strive for self-improvement, let us all reflect on road safety.
In Kol Nidre, a declaration that opens the Yom Kippur services, we state, “In the tribunal of heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of God – blessed be He – and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with the transgressors.”
“Transgressors,” the rabbis teach, include those who disobey various public regulations, such as, for instance, traffic laws. How many of us are guilty of driving too fast, of rolling through a stop sign, of passing a slow car on the right or when it is otherwise forbidden to do so? How many of us are truly conscious of the preciousness of our own lives, those of our passengers and the lives of pedestrians, bicyclists and fellow drivers? When we get behind the wheel we should realize that while an automobile makes things easier by shuttling us quickly across vast distances, it is also a heavy steel projectile that can wreak havoc and cause unfathomable pain and destruction. We should be aware of the seriousness of the driver’s responsibilities, be focused on anticipating potential dangers and be vigilant against distraction – even for a second – from the task at hand.
Judaism holds us responsible for our actions, which makes them worthy of merit or censure. Contemporary rabbis such as Re’em Hacohen, head of the Otniel hesder yeshiva, have called to disqualify known reckless drivers from serving as witnesses in rabbinical courts or at weddings.
“Anyone who blatantly and intentionally commits traffic violations, thus endangering human lives, is also purposely transgressing Halacha,” Hacohen recently told The Jerusalem Post. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has ruled that a kohen, a member of the priestly class, who kills due to negligent driving is disqualified from blessing the congregation. After having served as a vehicle of destruction, the kohen can longer become a conduit of God’s blessing, argues Yosef.
Cognitive dissonance causes drivers to skirt responsibility.
Faulty roads or badly planned road signs are to blame, we claim, as are Arab drivers, who are disproportionately represented in fatal road accidents. (Arabs made up over a third of road accident fatalities in 2009.) But if we are sincere, which we are supposed to be on Yom Kippur, we know deep down that preventing accidents depends on us.
Women, for instance, were involved in only a quarter of road accidents in 2009 and caused only 16% of severe or deadly crashes. The fact that there are fewer female drivers explains only part of the discrepancy. Experts say that women tend to obey traffic laws more than men, drive slower, drive less under the influence of drugs or alcohol and take fewer risks.
Perhaps all of us should be more feminine in our driving habits. Surely every driver should remember that seat belts save lives, and make sure that before the vehicle moves, everyone in it is buckled up.
On Yom Kippur during the Yizkor prayer, we remember our deceased loved ones. Let us also remember little Idan, Niv and Daniel and the thousands of other victims of automobile accidents. Let their memory encourage us to do our utmost to prevent the next accident from ever happening.