Can loss become life?

Each one of us can do his or her small part to improve safety on our roads.

I feel like howling with anger. At the other end of our quiet lane in Baka, Larry Roth was mourned last week by his wife, three children, eight grandchildren and hosts of friends. This vigorous 70-year-old walked out of his house, crossed the tracks that divide Baka from the German Colony, came minutes later to the pedestrian stripes on Emek Refaim, and was hit by a bus.
Exactly how it happened we may never know. But we know that Larry was gravely injured by the bus that threw him through the air, broke bones and punctured his lung. He remained in intensive care for two weeks while doctors vainly tried to remove him from a respirator and, in his final days, to save Larry from pneumonia and organ failure.
EVERYONE WHO drives on our roads or walks on our streets witnesses flagrant violations of speed limits, drivers weaving from lane to lane to surge ahead of other cars, motorcyclists squeezing recklessly between cars.
Reports of collisions with multiple deaths and injuries appear almost daily.
This carnage is not inevitable. We know how to dramatically reduce deaths and injuries. We know that many elements – road conditions, traffic lights, enforcement of laws, seat belts, driver education, public transportation – must be included in any comprehensive program to reduce road deaths.
But what we don’t know is what we can do about it. While none of us can do everything necessary to improve road safety on his or her own, each can do his small part, since life on the roads is the responsibility of every one of us.
Our first responsibility is to make sure, as much as possible, that we are safe, whether we are pedestrians, drivers, cyclists or simply sitting on a bench – sometimes just by being more aware of our surroundings. Our second responsibility is to make sure we don’t injure anyone else, taking measures such as driving more slowly or carefully. And our third responsibility is to do what we can to make things safer for everybody.
Over the past several years, around 400 people have died in this country each year on the road. Of those fatalities, some 30 percent are pedestrians, which is about three times the rate of most Western countries. More than 100 people of all ages die each year while simply walking to the post office or grocery, meeting a friend for coffee or returning home from school.
And when 2011 is tallied, Larry Roth will be among those mourned by the huge circle of friends who knew him and by those who never knew that this “Lone Ranger” – to use his favorite nom de guerre – was an anonymous and generous philanthropist who may have indirectly helped them through a crisis.
IN A SUNKEN office minutes from the Roth family home, Mordechai Feder chairs M e t u n a (, an NGO dedicated to road safety. My questions to him bring chilling statistics: According to police reports, 40,000 people are injured each year on our roads; according to hospital records, double that number. But summing it up, Feder warns that each of us can expect to be hit, injured or killed during his or her lifetime.
Among its other programs, Metuna offers to conduct workshops on pedestrian safety based on the “Ten Commandments of Pedestrian Safety” for any group of interested citizens. The organization is also always seeking new members to expand its outreach and advocacy (contact
Reducing road deaths and injuries requires that the issue becomes a national priority, no less than antimissile defense. Until public outcry rises to the Prime Minister’s Office and becomes a political liability too strong to ignore, road safety will continue to be approached by patching rather than planning.
Why not start with Jerusalem, soon to emerge from years of chaos that came with installing the light rail? Now is the time for Mayor Nir Barkat to make Jerusalem a model of road and pedestrian safety. Along with routes for buses and rail, new bike paths, freshly painted crossing stripes, speed bumps, traffic circles and maintaining the present law requiring all cyclists to wear helmets, there must be anticipation of danger spots. (Metuna has a program that reports danger spots to the city authorities and makes recommendations for improvements.) Solutions should not wait for deaths and injuries to happen. No new technology need be invented.
Commonsense solutions and listening to the citizenry, who know the problem spots in their areas, can prevent most of the anticipated casualties. The present official estimate of the first-year death toll from the light rail in Jerusalem is 10 additional deaths. Can Larry Roth’s death spur Jerusalem to create the first comprehensive plan for fighting the war against road carnage?
The writer is a contributing editor at Moment magazine.