Speaking before a concerned audience at the Beit Agron Press Center on May 6, 1997, Dr. Eli Richter, a board member of the Center for Driver Research and Injury Prevention, condemned the number of road casualties as a “blot on our lives,” calling for citizens to take action against a transportation ministry which has failed to stem the rising tide of casualties that occur on Israel’s hazardous roads.
Israel is the only Western country that has witnessed a rise in road deaths over the past six years.
Citing the success and subsequent cancellation of last year’s project in Netanya, in which on-line roadside electronic enforcement was coupled with a widespread publicity campaign to reduce the speed on the roads, Richter, accompanied by two scientists, Prof. Gerry Ben-David and Zvi Weinberger, accused the Israel Ministry of Transportation of canceling the project just as it was beginning to prove its effectiveness.
The Netanya project, carried out between March and July 1996, was based on the premise that speed is the leading cause of deaths and serious injuries on the road. Richter said that studies all over the world have supported this claim, and that countries which have instituted programs aimed at lowering the speed on the roads have seen a reduction in fatalities of as high as fifty percent.
During the six months of the project, the number of citations rose from 80 during the same period in the previous year to more than 2500, witnessing a corresponding drop in the average speed, which fell between ten and twenty percent. Traffic casualties dropped from 328 to 248. These numbers are even more dramatic when one compares them to the rest of the country, which saw a rise in casualties over the same period.
The speakers claimed that a country-wide implementation of the Netanya project could save 200 lives annually. The Ministry of Transportation canceled it after six months, claiming it had failed. Prof. Ben-David attributed this in part to special interests, including oil companies and commercial trucking, which make more money when people drive at high speeds. Insurance companies, which in Israel operate as a cartel, also increase their profits when road crashes increase. Dr. Richter accused the scientists who criticized the Netanya project of having offered their services to these “special interests”, drawing a comparison between them and scientists who for years denied the harmful effects of smoking while receiving money from the tobacco industry.
The rest of the meeting dealt with methods of community organization, so that citizens could bring pressure on seemingly ineffective government officials. “It’s time to let other people try,” said Weinberger, exhorting the crowd to “throw the rascals out.”