Reports regarding negligence and recklessness have been coming out since the deadly Highway 1 bus accident on Sunday, which left six passengers dead and dozens injured.
The 40-year-old driver of the intercity bus who crashed into a truck that stopped on the side of the highway on Sunday evening came under scrutiny after it was discovered that he had been allowed to return just two weeks ago to intercity driving after a period of suspension for recklessness.
The driver slammed into a truck on the same Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway injuring several passengers in 2013. Beyond the investigation itself, the incident raises questions about Israel’s general standard of driving.
Statistics show that Israel has a disproportionately large number of serious crashes and fatalities per year when compared with other countries with similar or significantly larger populations.
According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 458 accidents per 100,000 vehicles in 2013 while a total of 1,537 serious crashes took place in 2015 resulting in 292 deaths. This represents the highest number since 2012.
By contrast, there were only 400 incidents per 100,000 vehicles in 2013 in the UK, which has a population of approximately 65 million people. In Switzerland, with a population slightly greater than that of Israel, there were 298 crashes per 100,000 vehicles in 2013.
According to Chairman of the Knesset Lobby for the War Against Road Accidents MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beiteinu), the disproportionately high number of crashes in Israel can be attributed to a variety of factors beyond reckless driving.
Amar claimed that the government is aware of a significant number of danger zones throughout Israel which are not being sufficiently addressed. He told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) that the government has allocated NIS 2 billion to address the problem over the last few years, but that not all the money has been used in practice. For example, he said that only NIS 156 million was used in 2014 instead of the full NIS 400 million that was designated and required.
Another factor has been the lack of education on the subject and a lack of law enforcement on the roads. “We have seen cutbacks to traffic police of more than 40% over the last two or three years in Israel. There used to be close to 650 traffic policemen whereas today there are only about 400 and maybe even less,” Amar pointed out.
He also said that one of the main causes of incidents such as Sunday’s fatal accident is the lack of shoulders on the highways.
“There are no shoulders on the roads on which to stop. Even the new plans for road construction in Israel don’t involve shoulders. That means that if you ever have to stop because you are tired or if you have a malfunction or something, then you have to drive for many kilometers before you find a shoulder or else you have to stop on the road. Your life is in danger either way,” he said.
Amar further cited evidence from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to show that countries can reduce road accidents with appropriate measures and law enforcement. However, he maintained that the primary cause of crashes and fatalities were the “danger zones.”
“More than 90% of fatalities happen in the danger zones. If we address them, we can potentially save around 90 people, but it depends on us. A car crash is not a matter of fate. It can be avoided.”
Finally, Amar addressed the cultural issue on Israel’s roads and argued that this too could be improved if the law were to be strictly enforced.
“The problem is also a cultural and educational one. To create a culture you must enforce it. This will encourage people not to drive the way they do. If a driver knows that there are policemen on the roads waiting to catch him, he will drive differently because he wants to keep his license,” he concluded.
Tazpit Press Service