Monday, October 10, 2005

The Real Terror

.. is on the roads. This weekend a maniac with 19 previous traffic offenses killed four people and created in the process five orphans. This is the third accident with multiple fatalities in the last few months being caused by a reckless driver known to the authorities as such.

Here is what I wrote to the Ha'aretz editors in response to their report (see the link above).

Quote from Ha'aretz:
Central district police superintendent Yigal Hadad said yesterday it was "a grave and very serious accident. The driver is a lawbreaker who killed four people and left five orphans. Such a man must stand up to the law in all its severity," he said.

The value of such post-mortem statements is cosmetic at best. As a police volunteer I can attest that I frequently encounter drivers with revoked licenses during traffic patrols, who are not even afraid or ashamed to admit right away that they are driving without a valid license. The willingness of the administration and courts to deal with rogue drivers in an effective way is minimal and limited to public relations damage control once a serious accident has happened.
The basic fault is in the ideology of a populist law enforcement. There are laws against every imaginable offense, but effective prosecution is limited to cases of "high public interest" - and traffic offenses short of manslaughter are not in this category. Too many people commit them regularly and changing this would mean to step onto the toes of the general public, something our usually spineless politicians are not prepared to do. But without political back-up also the courts and even more so the police are afraid to do the right thing and ending up scapegoats for the resulting public anger.
Every parent knows that you can not tell a child that stealing is bad, but if you steal only small things, then never mind, I'll look the other way. You will get punished only for serious theft.

Nevertheless, this is exactly how Israeli drivers are being educated - never mind about the speed limit within the cities, never mind about parking in a red-white zone or on a pedestrian crossing, never mind even about overtaking a car stopping at a pedestrian crossing, and so on, and so on. All these are traffic offenses which can get people killed, but as long as you don't run a stop sign or a traffic light (defined as serious offenses because they frequently cause serious accidents) nothing will happen to you.

What drivers learn very quickly is as long as you don't kill anybody, we don't really care about you being a crazy maniac.

Therefore the police force on the roads is generally unmotivated to even try to catch repeat offenders. This has nothing to do with insufficient resources, as police commanders usually claim. The prove is in the story: The killer of Highway 1 was caught 19 times before his final atrocity destroyed two families. We know exactly who they are, and they are nothing else but ticking bombs, randomly taking the lives of innocent bystanders.
We will continue to see terrible accidents caused by rogue drivers until politicians, courts and police commanders move from lip service to action and put a repeat offenders behind bars. I pray for the day to come, when a driver smiles at me saying "I don't have a license anymore" and I can smile back, put him into handcuffs and know that from here on it is straight to an express court hearing and jail. Until then we will loose more people in traffic accidents than due to terror attacks every single year.

This one I didn't write to Haaretz (because they wouldn't print it anyway): My suggestion for immediate and drastic improvement of road safety: Use targeted killings for serious repeat offenders, just like we do it in Gaza with the other terrorists!

Okay, okay, I agree, no can do, don't kill them, but imagine the look on the face of a traffic maniac stepping out of his house in the morning and finding his car blown to pieces by a missile fired during the night from a IDF helicopter! Now that would be an effective measure...


Sheli said...

Hi Armin,

I completely agree with every word you wrote and more. I can tell endless horror, hair raising scenes I witnessed (Thank God I was not involved in any of them). I used (past tense) to drive a lot because of my work. Now, I use public trasportation, mainly trains) to get safely to where I have to go. I lived many years in Europe (France) and Europe is my preferred destination when I go on vacations and no matter which country. So, I can compare driving habits. I don't say all Europeans are saints, far from it, but at least they respect certain driving rules that prevent, most of the times, fatal accidents. In Israel it's the complete opposite. For the life of me, I can't understand what happens to drivers when they hit the road! It's like they are going on war!! They really become traffic maniacs as if the road is their property, not minding other cars and drivers, not to mention bystanders!!! you mentioned a very important fact with which I agree -I think we loose more people in traffic accidents (killed or maimed for life) than in terror attacks, each year, but this fact goes un-noticed. Noone ever bothered to make the calculations!! the culprits are the drivers, the police and the courts of Law who are much too lenient for my taste. Right again, those maniacs should be put behind bars, but.... thet are not, or best case - for a minimum period of time. The solution? you mentioned every possibility, but...


Armin in Israel said...


Yes,you are right, the comparison with France is sad. But actually, France was very much the same (in Germany we used to laugh about the maniac French and Italian drivers...), until politicians got to feel the public anger and started to implement very tough measures, which reduced the number of traffic fatalities by 70% or so in just 2 years. Message: Change is possible!

Have safe trips to work,