Vision Zero

Netanya hit-and-run is a bitter reminder of our continued failure to follow through on the lessons of past accomplishments in protecting all road users.

hit and run car 311 (photo credit: Court Services)
hit and run car 311
(photo credit: Court Services)
The grisly killing of three pedestrians in Netanya last Friday by a hit-and-run driver alleged to be speeding under the influence of alcohol is a bitter reminder of our continued failure to follow through on the lessons of past accomplishments in protecting all road users.
Ironically, these lessons came from a drop in road deaths from nine to one in Netanya associated with a pilot speed camera project in the late 1990s. The project was the brainchild of the late Prof. Gerald Ben-David.
The take-home messages from the project were: Kinetic energy is the pathogen in road injuries; speed kills more; and killing speed in cities saves lives of all road users – drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists.
Ads selling cars tout speed and encourage speed addicts.
Speed cameras kill speed by increasing the likelihood of detection by a factor of between 20 and 100 – to a level that deters.
In 2011, 341 people were killed on Israel’s roads. Based on trends so far this year, we may finally have lowered the annual death toll to under 300. Good news? Maybe.
The toll, according to Prof. Elihu Richter of the Hebrew University-Hadassah – Ben-David’s colleague – should approach “Vision Zero,” because deaths from crashes are an epidemic that can be eradicated. All the factors – human, vehicular and environmental – are within reach of modification by governmental policy and individual choices.
By now, Israel’s annual death should have been under 200, based on the spectacular progress in various European countries. The Hebrew University-Hadassah Injury Prevention Center has spelled out the components of a national policy to reach Vision Zero.
First, lower existing speed limits and the levels at which they are enforced. Higher speed limits outside cities result in speed spillover into cities, and reach all the way into crosswalks.
Second, massively increase the distribution of speed cameras, now fewer than 100, to several hundred nationwide.
Everywhere they are used, they save lives by killing speed, and, yes, the revenue they generate pays for their operation.
Reduce speed limits, and put in place many more speed cameras. Repeated speeders should be removed from the roads before they kill, not after.
Third, introduce night-time breath-testing points, which stop speeding drivers, given the strong relationship between drinking and driving.
Fourth, stop building more roads, but make existing ones safer. This includes removing all steel poles and other booby traps.
Upgrade markings and dividers to European Union standards. Build more roundabouts; they are a very effective and friendly method to reduce speed throughout the road network. And put in many more humps and bumps – known in Latin America as “sleeping police.”
Fifth, promote modal shifts to much more public transit of all kinds, bike-bus and bike-train packages, and more. Right now, only 30 percent of Israel’s public uses public transport – a consequence of distorted public priorities shaped by the pressures of road builders and their hired consultants. Every person traveling on a bus or light rail instead of in a private vehicle reduces risks by 90%.
The impressive safety record of Jerusalem’s Light Rail network makes the case for more of the same.
Sixth, massively invest in better public transit from the “periphery” to the center of the country. Doing so would make this condescending term obsolescent.
The road death toll should be much lower than it is because of the economic recession, rising fuel prices and traffic congestion. All three result in slower driving.
There have been two other positive developments.
Israel’s trauma centers, under the leadership of Prof. Avi Rivkind, chief of surgery at Hadassah, have greatly reduced mortality in persons injured in road trauma to levels as good or better than US averages, and much better than in the UK.
The IDF has made major progress in improving safety standards of its vehicles, and attacking fatigue. New regulations for maximum work hours of truck drivers have also helped.
Prof. Gerald Ben-David died exactly a year ago, at the age of 83, after gaining the esteem of those who mattered and cared. The mission before us is to realize his vision, and bring our road deaths down to zero.