Halting drunk driving

Despite legislation to prevent youngsters from drinking and driving as well as increased road blocks, the situation is not improving.

MDA 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
MDA 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Imagine this situation. Your children, your parents or you yourself are out celebrating a holiday, or a family simha, or simply having a drink with friends.
Too much alcohol is ingested, there is no designated driver and somehow, you have to get home.
Of course, you can order a taxi or call a friend. But someone in South Africa came up with an ingenious idea, and there is no reason we shouldn’t adopt it here in Israel.
They set up an organization called Good Fellas in Port Elizabeth in 2004, and it has expanded throughout the country, proving to be popular, profitable – and, no doubt, saving countless lives in the process.
It works like this. You pay a certain amount of money a month, and if you find yourself in a situation in which you can’t drive because of your alcohol intake, you call Good Fellas, and they send a chauffeur to take you home in your own car.
“As a Good Fellas member, on any of our packages, you can benefit from a personal chauffeur at your disposal, enabling you to not only enjoy yourself, but do it responsibly,” the organization’s Internet site proclaims.
Good Fellas advertises itself as “a hassle-free alternative to drinking and driving” and says it is the preferred choice of “thousands of responsible South Africans,” but won’t give exact figures.
However, its service is now available via a national call center in the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and George.
Here in Israel, it was announced recently that 44 people were killed on the roads in September, 19 more than in the same month last year.
Since January 2011, at least 276 people have lost their lives on the country’s roads. This compares with 314 fatalities in the whole of 2009 and 352 in 2010. It is estimated that one out of every five fatalities is the result of drunk drivers or pedestrians.
In all Western countries, road fatalities have dropped by 50 percent in absolute numbers in the last decade. Only in Israel is the figure rising.
In a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Kadima MK Ze’ev Bielski wrote that the traffic death toll “is a trend that is worsening and requires urgent action.”
Prof. Elihu Richter, a veteran expert on the subject, says the “disgraceful delays” in implementing Israel’s national speed network, coupled with the raises in the speed limits, have cost 200 lives or more per year, or all totaled some 4,000 victims, mostly young persons.”
This year, he warns, we could a death toll that exceeds 350, and thousands more maimed, disabled and crippled.
He is especially critical of Transportion Minister Yisrael Katz’s decision to raise the posted speed limit to 100 kph and the enforced speed limit to 120 kph on many inter-urban roads, which he estimates has erased the benefits of countermeasures that brought down the death toll to 314 in 2009.
Many solutions have been proposed to cut the casualties on our roads, including lowering the speed limit, deploying more traffic police, cracking down on cellphone use and introducing a zero-tolerance alcohol policy.
Speed kills. The raised speeds have provided especially high risks for pedestrians. Surely the introduction of a local version of Good Fellas could only help.
Unfortunately, despite legislation to prevent youngsters from drinking and driving as well as increased road blocks to check whether motorists are inebriated, the situation is not improving.
Perhaps a road-safety organization such as Metuna: The Organization for Road Safety, a private enterprise or the government itself could introduce Good Fellas in Israel.
As we approach winter, when traffic fatalities usually rise, let’s be proactive to stop the carnage.
Israeli road-safety pioneer Gerry Ben-David died this year at the age of 83. His legacy was a dream of Vision Zero, or no road deaths.
It would be most fitting to start a Good Fellas project in his memory.
Richter has proposed a tough new set of measures to implement Vision Zero, including a Good Fellas program here. Israel’s concern for the life of Gilad Schalit is a role model for the applying the same concern toward achieving Vision Zero.