To alleviate the many traffic concerns of the public, the Israeli government is planning to build Route 6, the Trans Israel high-speed superhighway that will connect the country from North to South. Israel’s first tollway, Highway Six, planned by the Trans-Israel Highway company, has been on the maps of Israel since 1976, planned as a 135 kilometer road, reaching from area north of Acre to the areas south of Kiryat Gat in the Negev.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem suddenly sports three superhighways that criss-cross the city.
The Finance and Transportation Ministries are confident that superhighways will be the appropriate solution to an increasingly automobile dependent nation.
It is exactly this dependency on automobiles and the repercussions thereof that Zvi Weinberger – the president emeritus of Machon Lev – Jerusalem College of Technology and member of the advisory council to the Israel Ministry of Transportation’s National Road Safety Authority – has been assessing.
Weinberger also heads the Center for Driver Research at Machon Lev
Also evaluating the risks is Dr. Elihu Richter, a medical doctor who heads the Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Hebrew University-Haddasah School of Public Health. Dr. Richter also heads the Betts Project for Injury Prevention. also located at the Hebrew University-Haddasah School of Public Health.
Although both Weinberger and Richter are men in their sixties who both originally hail from the United States, the similarities would seem to end there.
Weinberger, always wearing distinguished dark suit, conveys a peaceful presence and character, lives in the Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof, a man who is a scientist and Torah scholar in his own right, He stands in contrast to Dr. Richter, a self-styled secularist Jew, and a different persona altogether- conveying a very outspoken and passionate personality.
Yet Weinberger and Richter are the seemingly odd couple who have teamed up to combine their energies and scientific insight to spend now and the years to come to fight for better road transportation polcies.
When you see them together, it’s like imagining Agudat Yisrael and Meretz in a coalition.
Weinberger sees nothing unusual about a physicist working with a doctor, explaining that while a physicist can analyze a factor like the impact of increasing speed on the increasing death rate on the road, Dr. Richter brings the discipline of medicine, disease control, and epidimeology to bear on the matter, viewing hundreds of people dying on the roads as you would understand the spread of a plague that would have to be cured.
In the view of Weinberger and Richter, the contagious behavior that people have learned from one another on the roads, the increase of speed limits and the government’s obsessive urge to increase the amount of motor vehicles on the road are all contributing to the victims that this plague is claiming every day.
Dr. Richter has introduced the concept of The Case Fatality Rate to measure the influence of increased speed on the road that will increase the number of of people killed amongst all those injured. The studies produced by Richter and Weinberger show that any 1 percent increase in speed will translate into a 4% increase in fatality.
In other words, the Case Fatality Rate relates to likelihood of getting killed of the people involve in a crash.
For people from North American who understand baseball jargon, it is like calculating a baseball player’s slugging percentage, based on how many extra-base hits he has in relation to his total amount of hits.
Only five years ago, Weinberger and Richter warned that the increase of the speed limit on interurban ‘roads (from 90 to 100 on main roads and 80 to 90 on smaller interurban roads) would have the effect of increasing the fatality rate by 20%, and that is exactly what happened. The Death rate on interurban roads went up from 259 to 319 in the first year after the speeds were raised, and the rate has remained steady ever since.
This Case Fatality Rate, once increased, has stayed high.
This is what Weinberger and Richter term ” a sustained impact”.
This contrasts with what happened when the government lowered the speed limit following the Yom Kippur War, in 1974, you witnessed a drop in road deaths from 719 in 1974 to 399 in 1984. The point is that when you raise the speed limit, you induce people to drive faster.
The new Highway Six – the Trans-Israel Highway, will raise the speed limit to 110 kilometers per hour, while the speeds on the highway are expected to go much higher. After all, the brochure issued by the Trans-Israel Highway Company and Sonol Oil Co, promises travel times of thirty minutes between Haifa and the Sharon area, which is a distance of 65 Km, implying a speed of 130 KPH while assuring only a forty minute ride from BeerSheva to “the central part of the country”, implying even higher speeds
Meanwhile, the Orthodox investor on Highway Six, Mr. Lev Leviav, does not want to collect tolls on Shabbat, recently telling Globes that this will be an incentive for people to drive faster on his road on Shabbat and spend less time on the road on Shabbat. What Leviav may not know is that there is already a 20% increase of deaths on the interurban roads on Shabbat.
To be considered too the overall economic implications and the direct additional costs to families and it is obvious why this topic has attracted such a high level of attention from a vast and varied section of the public.
Translate these new high speeds together with the resulting spillover effect onto the and similar lack Weinberger and Richter warn that Highway Six will also cause an immediate increase in fatalities on tributary roads as well as the road itself. They predict that the Highway Six will cause a rise from its current average of 550 per year to something approximating 750!
“Speed addiction has certain parallels to nicotine addiction,” Dr. Richter explains. This country caters to an addiction which is deadly. The population needs to realize that the time is now to stop advertising, “the fastest” roads and cars and start educating dangerous drivers.
Weinberger and Richter sadly surmise that the government incentive to higher speed on the Trans Israel highway will therefore increase the Case Fatality Rate, on weekdays and on Shabbat.. Since the specific government-directed mandate of the National Road Safety Authority is to bring down fatalities on the road, and since the government has now embarked on a policy that will increase deaths on the roads, Zvi Weinberger took an unusual step last week.
Weinberger initiated a “rump session” of the advisory council to the National Road Safety Authority the Belgian House on the Hebrew University Givat Ram campus, and invited Richter to lead a session of experts from all fields – engineers, environmentalists, transportation specialists, concerned citizens and Ministry of Health officials.
Weinberger would not wait for the government-appointed chairman of the advisory council, Mr. Yisrael Kaz, to call a special session of experts. Mr. Kaz is the Israel representative of Volvo and also acts as the representative of the Israel car import industry on the advisory council. Only last week, when Kaz was asked by Israel radio about more cameras on the roads that would photograph speeding drivers at every possible place, Kaz responded by saying that Israeli drivers ( his customers – d.s.b) should not be harassed so much.
The presentations outlined how Route 6 will fail to meet the public’s needs and will not serve their best interests.
At that session, scientist, Dr. Gary Ginsberg provided risk assessments which indicated that particulate emissions from increased vehicle transport, notably diesel, will increase death tolls by several hundred persons per year and gave person year. These risk assessments indicate that induced travel, higher speeds, and spillover effect from the Trans Israel Highway could bring us to death toll of more than 1000 or so victims by the year 2010.
Mortality from tailpipe vehicular emissions alone in Tel Aviv is around ten times that from motor vehicle accidents.
If Route #6 is built, the main avenue/mode of transportation for the next half-century will be automobile based.
This will increase the amount of car ownership which puts more and more people at risk from emissions of toxic gases. Lung diseases, bronchitis, and respiratory illnesses such as asthma will all prevail.
All the experts present concluded that only a a massive shift to rail travel, and speed restriction could bring death toll down to under 300 per year
Almost all the experts present at the meeting had pressed the Ministries of Transportation and Public Security for their own studies about the results of the rise in the speed limit. Neither government agency has been forthcoming, although the statistics speak for themselves..
Professor Gerald Ben David gave a report about the introduction of speed camera technology that was used in a project in Netanya for a period of six months, a program that reduced fatalities to zero during its test period.. Ben David detailed how the program could easily be applied throuout the country, using the five year program learned from Australia that introduced hundreds of speed cameras, combined with a brutal ad campaign. The government has not continued the funding of the Netanya program, nor will it consider the “Australian model”.
I met with Shmuel Hershkowitz, recently appointed by the Israel Ministry of Transportation to direct the National Road Safety Authority. This was an opportunity to ask Hershkowitz about government transportation policy. Hershkowitz rejects any notion that lowering or raising the speed limit will affect the amount of deaths on the roads. Hershkowitz’s passion is to get everyone to drive at the speed limit and a little bit above, with the thought that this will prevent collisions. He rejects the idea that corollary roads to main highways carry any spillover effect with increased collisions.
And he also rejects the notion that Israel will adapt Australia’s five year program of speed cameras and brutal advertisements that reduced the deaths on the road down under by half. Hershkowitz characterized the Australian model as a “terror” policy which Israeli drivers need not fear from our government in Israel.
All you have to do to get a shudder out of Hershkowitz is to mention Weinberger and Richter, whom he characterizes as “irresponsible populists”. He was particularly angry at Weinberger’s initiative to call a special session of his advisory council, which has not met since January.
Herhskowitz constantly brought in Germany as a model of traffic laws. So I asked him about the rule that I had witnessed in Germany that absolutely restricted trucks to the right lane of traffic, with a maximal speed of eighty kilometers an hour. Hershkowitz’s response was simple: In Israel, trucks of course drive in the right hand lane, except when they are passing.
Trucks seem always to be passing on Israeli interurban roads, and not at eighty Kilometers an hour..
Hershkovitz had little to say about another study of Dr. Richter, which shows that Israeli truck drivers are forced to drive 15 hour days, and that the Ministry of Transportation has done little of nothing to challenge the trucking contractors who force drivers to work in such dangerous conditions, with the threat that any driver who will not drive for 15 hours will lose his job. Hershkowitz spoke about going after the truck drivers, not the contractors, whose power may exceed that of the government.
A tragic case in point: In June,.1996, an unlicensed cement truck driver from Ramallah, working for the contractor, Tzvi Barashi, ran through a red light at French Hill and smashed a fiat in the oncoming lane, instantly killing journalist Michele Coraine and her visiting colleague from Belgium.
The driver was brought to trial and given a light sentence by then-judge Eli Rubenstein, now the Israeli Attorney General, on the condition that he would testify against the Barashi contractors who had hired him, knowing that he was unlicensed and unable to drive a cement truck. Despite the driver’s testimony and an order from the Israel High Court of Justice to indict Barashi, the Israel District Attorney’s office has dropped the case, “for lack of public concern”.
It is for lack of “public concern” that Herhskovitz could not delineate any new policy of enforcement or inspection of the truck driver companies, except to say that he had invited five trucking representatives to his office to warn them that the government could use its powers to close them down. When I asked Hershovitz if this included T’nuva and the other trucking giants in Israel, he was surprised at the question.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Highway Six has been the reduction of train service in Israel, despite the fact that more than seven million train tickets were sold in the first six months of 1998. Suddenly, the forty million dollars needed to upgrade the train tracks to accommodate the new fast trains for Jerusalem were quietly transferred to the paving of Highway Six, which costs $2 million a kilometer to pave. Suddenly, on July 19, 1998. trains service that had operated to Jerusalem since 1892 came screeching to a halt.
This, despite the fact that the transportation of goods by rail rather than truck involves ten percent of the risk involved.
Meanwhile, at Weinberger’s rump session of the advisory council, members heard another surprising report that toll roads have lost money all over the world. The contract for Route 6 includes a clause that the government will make up any losses on the Highway Six toll road. Mike Friedman, a road specialist originally from Southern California, explained that in all three toll roads that he is familiar with, the Dulles toll road in Virginia, the Denver Airport Connection, and the Newport Beach, California toll road, are all rarely used and have failed miserably. Even though the banks own the road, the government shoulders the responsibility of paying the Africa-Israel group. In Israel, this “subsidy” could approach $1 billion! As taxpayers, is this a sure bet? Do high taxes have to become higher? The question that people in Israel need to ask themselves is whether health and education budgets have to be slashed in order to fund a dangerous, polluting, and sprawling blacktop?
“Whoever saves one life is as if he has saved the world.” The sages emphasize the value of even one human soul. The time is now and the power is in our hands to tell the government that we should reconsider our transportation future. 61% of the population think that the government should be spending money on building public transportation such as trains, subways and monorails. “Pikuach Nefesh” – the Jewish law of saving a life takes precedence of even the Sabbath.
The question that remains is whether “Pikuach Nefesh” be bought with special interest money?
In the coming weeks, Weinberger and Richter have assembled a new coalition to fight Highway Six, and the new government incentive to speed.
One new element that they are turning to is the religious sector of the country, to ask Rabbis and rabbinical courts to intervene to stop a policy that will cost lives. Most recently, the National Road Safety Authority organized a one day seminar on the Trans Israel Highway at Bar Ilan University, where they invited Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz of Bar Ilan University to provide an invocation. Rabbi Rabinowitz, who was going to give a tepid speech in which he was going to mention the importance of highway safety and to encourage drivers to be more responsible. Yet once Rabinowitz took a look at the studies prepared by Weinberger and Richter, the Rabbi termed Highway Six as a threat to human life, and he warned that the planners of such a road must place the value of human life over the incentive to profits.
Weinberger and Richter postulate that a proper combination of environmental activists, scientific data and the Jewish moral precept of Pikuach Nefesh can still galvanize public opposition to the speed plague of death on Israel’s highways.
Hershkovitz and other government employees of the National Road Safety Authority may now be affected by Weinberger-Richter induced ulcers that may be painful and that may save lives.
Next week, Zvi Weinberger and Dr. Eli Richter have an appointment with the Chief Rabbinical council of Israel, where Rehovot’s chief Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook will be placing Weinberger and Richter’s conclusions on the agenda of the Rabbis of Israel. Richter, who often says that skullcaps just don’t fit his skull, will make an exception this time.
Human lives are at stake.
Rabbi Kook lives with the memory of his older brother, the previous Rehovot Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Kook, who lost his life, together with his wife and two of their children, all killed in a fiery collision in 1972.