We must stop killing ourselves

This week’s tragic bus accident on Highway 1 which took the lives of six young people cannot pass from the public’s consciousness without a demand for significant change in Israel.

Bus accident on Highway 1 on February 14, 2016 (photo credit: MIDABRIM BATIKSHORET)
Bus accident on Highway 1 on February 14, 2016
There was always one given while driving from Silver Spring, Maryland to New York. Making my way up I-95, I would see state troopers everywhere.
Whether in Maryland, Delaware or New Jersey they would be driving on the roads and waiting at speed traps on the sides of the highway in both marked and unmarked vehicles. This had an automatic impact on how fast I drove and how close I drove to cars in front of me, especially after I received a ticket for tailgating.
This week’s tragic bus accident on Highway 1 which took the lives of six young people cannot pass from the public’s consciousness without a demand for significant change in Israel. My work both in the Knesset and since the elections takes me throughout the land of Israel.
I drive the highways at all times of day and night and see zero police presence monitoring how I or anyone else around me is driving.
And the facts speak for themselves. In 2002, 548 people were killed on Israel’s roads and the government decided to address the problem.
Budgets were allocated to strengthening the traffic police force and the following decade showed a 47 percent reduction in traffic-related fatalities. By 2012 the number – albeit still far too high – was reduced to 290 deaths per year. During that period, the annual budget for traffic police was increased to over NIS 100 million per year, allowing for over 300 traffic police cars and over 600 officers dedicated to monitoring traffic violations on the highways of Israel.
The success was tangible and driving safety was heading in the right direction. But quite shockingly, things have now changed. The current budget designates a mere NIS 32m. for traffic police – a 70% reduction! – which allows for 113 traffic police cars and just 379 officers. This translates into one traffic police car per 100 kilometers of highway.
It means one car patrolling the Tel Aviv-Haifa highway, one car patrolling the Tel Aviv-Beersheba highway, and just half a car patrolling the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.
We are a country which knows how to react in times of crisis or need. Terrorists began to attack throughout Israel a few months ago, and our government’s focus shifted immediately to exploring ways to protect its citizens.
Three Arab members of Knesset met with the families of terrorists and the prime minister has made it his top priority to pass legislation to address the problem of Knesset members who act in this manner.
Where is that swift response to the horrors and deaths which take place almost daily on our highways and came to a head with Sunday’s tragic accident? When all investigations point to the fact that the fatal accidents happen as a result of speeding, tailgating, lack of attention, and straying from assigned lanes (largely because of illegal cell phone use) – all behaviors which can be monitored by increased police presence – why aren’t the prime minister and transportation minister making it an immediate priority to increase the traffic police force? As columnist Ben Caspit pointed out, imagine if there were more patrol cars and cameras monitoring Highway 1. Is it impossible to conceive that within two minutes of the truck getting stuck on the side of the road in a dangerous manner that a patrol car would be there with its lights flashing to warn passing traffic of the danger? MK Aliza Lavie submitted an official parliamentary question to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz two months ago in which she asked him what plans his ministry has to address the 216 km. of highway and 63 intersections which have been labeled “dangerous” and are responsible for 92 deaths per year. As of yet, not only has no response been received but when MK Lavie confronted the minister in a Knesset committee this week about not responding to her parliamentary question about this issue, he did not react with any sense of urgency.
Why aren’t these issues being addressed? Why have the budgets for this cause decreased instead of increased? Why don’t we see huge numbers of patrol cars monitoring our every move everywhere we drive? Why isn’t money being designated to widen the shoulders of roads like Highway 6 where a broken-down truck creates an automatic danger for all vehicles traveling in the righthand lane? What are our leaders waiting for? Why are traffic deaths, which occur in the hundreds every year, considered a lower priority than terrorist murders which are far less common – especially when we consider that there are so many more tangible solutions that can help save lives on our roads and highways? I don’t have the answers to these questions. I recommend that every reader take a few minutes and contact the Prime Minister’s Office – by going to www.pmo.org.il, clicking on “English,” clicking on “the Prime Minister,” and then clicking on “contact the Prime Minister.” Demand that he take immediate action.
Please e-mail Minister of Transportation and Road Safety Yisrael Katz (yes, that is his complete official title) at [email protected] mot.org.il and demand that he not only build roads but make sure that they are safe.
In addition, for those of you have the time, you can actually roll up your sleeves and serve as volunteer traffic officers.
Thanks to the “Or Yarok” organization, 8,300 volunteers currently work alongside the police to monitor our roads. The 50 hours of training to become a volunteer take place in the traffic police facility in Ramla and certifies volunteers to serve as fully empowered police officers for traffic violations. To find out more please email me at [email protected] gmail.com.
Please take action. Something must be done. We suffer enough from external enemies who seek to kill us. We must put an end to the even greater loss of life and suffering which comes from our killing ourselves.
The author served in the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party. He is currently director of the Department of Zionist Operations for the World Zionist Organization. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the WZO.