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car accident 224 88 aj.(Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Protection on the roads
By JPOST EDITORIAL
03/12/2010
It may even be advisable to charge drivers with murder in extreme cases.
Five more names were added Wednesday to our grim toll of road accident fatalities. Among them was 12-year-old Arik Ofer from Ofakim.

He and a friend were severely injured on Sunday at a pedestrian crossing. The cab driver who recklessly ran them over bemoaned his own fate, portraying himself as a victim no less than the hapless youngsters he hit. “My life too has been wrecked, not just theirs,” he asserted.

His extraordinary chutzpa points to the root-cause of the mayhem on our roads – criminal anti-social attitudes.

Speeding up to a pedestrian crossing, the above driver apparently regarded a vehicle halted there as an annoying obstruction. He bypassed it and slammed into the boys. This was an eminently gratuitous tragedy. When noticing a vehicle at full stop before a crossing, approaching drivers must assume the presence of pedestrians ahead. The taxi driver in question carelessly, indeed callously, broke that rule. Nothing can excuse this. There are no extenuating circumstances.

Yet he wasn’t even arrested. He awaits further proceedings from the comfort of his home. The same is true for other drivers who have shocked the nation in recent days.

The Rahat truck driver who killed five members of the Dahan family on the Arava Highway on February 22 is under house arrest. He did nothing to help passengers in the car he smashed after having veered inexplicably into oncoming traffic. Considering his long rap-sheet of heavy traffic offenses, he shouldn’t have been allowed behind the wheel at all. It was only a matter of time before his proven lawlessness would claim lives.

Equally culpable is the IDF driver who, while attempting a risky overtaking maneuver, crossed a solid white line near Yeroham and sent another military truck crashing into a sedan carrying a grandmother, mother and two tots – killing all four. Nothing can justify breaching this most basic of highway codes. White lines are there for a reason.

Populist mantras – sounded automatically whenever we hear of more carnage on our thoroughfares – demand additional infrastructure expenditure. Improved road facilities do indeed improve safety, but they aren’t the antidote for driving calamities. Much as some might wish to conveniently ascribe the anarchy on our roads to the weather, the heat, the infrastructure or any other external condition, there is no way to absolve ourselves of primary responsibility.

The blame, above all, resides with the Israeli driver’s basic behavioral predispositions. Devil-may-care negligence, lack of elementary etiquette, perception of the road as a private pathway, pushiness and ignorance of basic traffic-coexistence rules can end disastrously. Indeed, we’re lucky there aren’t more traffic fatalities than the already horrific toll.

Narrow escapes and barely averted fender-benders are nothing unusual for most of us. The police – other than sporadically deployed traffic cops – routinely ignores unruliness that caused no injury, even if it involved outright infractions such as running red-lights at full speed, almost ramming other vehicles and clearly endangering the public.

IT’S TIME laws were more rigorously enforced. Delinquent drivers must be removed from the roads and their cars confiscated (the law allows for this). The prosecution must cease operating in slow motion and judges have to ditch lenient inclinations. Wrist-slapping sends the wrong message. Judges must systematically fit the punishment to the crime to achieve deterrence. It may even be advisable to charge drivers with murder in extreme cases, where the carnage they have caused cannot be perceived as accidental.

This is no hopeless, unavoidable affliction. We Israelis have gradually learned, on the whole, not to pick wildflowers, smoke on buses or waste water. Israel’s driving-culture can be altered if efforts are made to eradicate specific violations like aggressive tailgating, blinding oncoming drivers with high-beams at night, flashing lights, needlessly weaving in and out of lanes, passing on the right, treating stop signs as optional recommendations, and failing to yield the right-of-way.

Generalized preaching must replaced by re-teaching the basics and punishing those who ignore them.

Yet, vital though it is for raising the ethical awareness of road-users, re-education is a long-term investment. More immediately, ethics ought to be underscored by throwing the book at those who thumb their noses at our safety. Our society must protect itself. If reason won’t help, then duly frightening offenders just might.
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