The road not taken

Driving in Israel is safer and less unpleasant than ever before.

Students highway 1  (photo credit: Dimi Reider)
Students highway 1
(photo credit: Dimi Reider)
Ismail and Najuan Khualed and their seven-year-old daughter Eden, from the Galilee village of Sa'ab, were killed over the weekend a few hundred meters from their home on Road 70 between Karmiel and Acre. A truck driver traveling in the opposite lane lost control of his vehicle, which then overturned, slamming into the Khualeds' car. Their son Tamir is hospitalized in critical condition. Not a weekend goes by, or so it seems, which does not close with awful news about traffic and road fatalities. This one was no exception: In addition to Ismail, 25, and Najuan, 22, three other citizens lost their lives. In a three-month period his year, 89 people were killed; thousands were injured. It is small consolation to the grieving families - or to our national psyche - that traffic-related fatalities have actually decreased. The statistics are mildly encouraging: In 2004, 428 were killed; 2005, 381; 2006, 373; and 2007, 351. NO ONE would dispute that the main culprit is speed. Academic experts persuasively argue that as speed goes up, so does the frequency and severity of accidents. The police concur - speed is a factor in most accidents, directly causing 20 percent of fatalities. Obviously, drivers must be more diligent about adhering to posted speed limits, and police need to do a better job of catching violators. Still, human nature being what it is, and since police can't be everywhere, experts argue that a state-of-the-art speed camera network ought to be installed across the country to detect and deter speeding. Such a network has been shown to reduce fatalities in the UK, Australia and France. In Israel, cameras using comparatively archaic technology are in place along only relatively short stretches of road. Other "cameras" are actually decoys intended to fool drivers into thinking they're being monitored. Until now, budget constraints, red tape and a shortage of personnel (to retrieve and process the film) has hamstrung this old technology. Why has the Finance Ministry failed to allocate the necessary funds for Israel to implement its own nationwide, state-of-the art speed camera program? Dead citizens don't contribute to the economy, and shattered survivors often become burdens to society. The cost to tax-payers of medical care and rehabilitation for injured motorists can be staggering. So it makes economic sense - aside from being also the moral thing to do - to invest in safer roads. We urge Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to show leadership and lose no time in getting to work with the police and the Treasury. They must accelerate a viable timetable for making speed cameras a reality. BUT SPEEDING is not the only problem. Even some major arteries are not properly lit at night. Some lack shoulders - including, villagers say, the area where the Khualed family lost their lives. Drivers also have a responsibility: to keep their tires inflated, their brakes in good condition and their windshields clean for good visibility. If there are population sectors which are disproportionately involved in accidents, remedial driver-education must be targeted where it will do the most good. WHILE IT may be hard to quantify, most of us sense that there is also something about Israel's "culture" that contributes, if not to the actual carnage on the roads, then to the prevailing sense of intolerance and lack of consideration. Too many drivers fail to signal lane changes, or turns; rather than yield, they pursue self-defeating and dangerous "not-one-inch" tactics. No one wants to be a freier - a sucker - and everyone is stressed. Yet it is intolerable that some people drive while cradling a cell phone, shaving, applying make-up or reading. Public service ads have reeducated us about the need for passenger seat-belts, the danger of children dashing out between cars, and the benefits of keeping headlights on during the winter. The time is long overdue for a basic road etiquette campaign. Driving in Israel, admittedly stressful, is still safer and less unpleasant than ever before thanks to improved roads, better lighting and, in urban areas, the growing utilization of roundabouts and speed bumps. None of these improvements, however, makes us sanguine about the deaths of good people like the Khualeds. Are you hearing us, Minister Mofaz?