The fact that I’m not one of the terrified few doesn’t mean it doesn’t scare me at all. Olim, new and old, as well as many Israelis, are terrified of it. Some deal with it as just another aspect of living here, some fight it, some seem to be immune. A few, but still too many, are the perpetrators and cause of this fear.
For the last ten years, I’ve dealt with the consequences, some too horrible to witness, let alone to describe. Ten years of finding right-hand drive cars on the left-hand drive side of a road, facing the wrong way. Ten years of cars hitting cars, cars hitting walls, cars hitting people. London is a busy city, with all that entails. It has some of the world’s worst traffic and some appalling driving – and it’s getting worse. Life for its paramedics is getting busier by the day.
Israel, on the other hand, has fewer people, fewer cars, even per-capita. Yet the rate of death and serious injury on Israeli roads is much higher than the UK.
It’s been just over a month since I returned to live in Israel. It doesn’t take long to remember what the state of driving is like over here. All it takes is to leave the confines of Ben Gurion Airport, sometimes not even that long, before facing the well-known hazard of Israeli driving.
I’ve heard all the excuses. I heard them all in London, and I’ve heard them all here. I’ve heard the stories, the reasons, the lies that drivers tell in order to explain their poor driving. And I’ve also seen the results.
All too recently, Israelis as one were shocked by the horrendous crash that killed eight members of the same family, leaving seven-year-old Rachel Attias as the sole survivor. A mechanical failure has been blamed, possibly an already known fault that hadn’t been fixed. This was a freak accident that doesn’t represent the daily reality of Israeli roads. It does, however, highlight once again one certain aspect of it.
Israel as a whole and Israelis individually are known for their respect for human life. One soldier returned from captivity alive is worth several hundred terrorists in return. The Torah teaches on numerous occasions and in multiple ways the sanctity of life. “Vachai Bahem” – and you shall live by them – a command telling us that our duties as Jews are a way of life, not a path to death. “Venishmartem Meod Lenafshoteichem” – and you should take extra care with your lives. No explanation needed.
Yet particularly, recent studies have shown that the accident rates in the religious communities, those who profess to follow the letter of the law of Torah, are higher than anywhere else in Israel. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
Seatbelts are rejected in favour of freedom of movement.
Speed limits and road markings are used more as friendly suggestions than as law.
Tail-gating and flashing of headlights is just another way of politely asking the car in front to allow you to pass.
Passengers in a vehicle exceed the number allowed by law and by design – as was the case in the Attias family tragedy.
The ban on using mobile phones whilst driving seems to be a recommendation.
And lane markings are just pictures painted on the road to break the monotony of black tarmac.
The risks involved are not just personal ones. They endanger the pilot of the missile as well as those within it and surrounding it. Rabbis amongst these communities are forever warning of the hazards of daily life. The internet is a hazard. Mobile phones are a hazard. Modern life in general is a hazard. Members of these communities obey the words of these Rabbis, at least to a large degree. Maybe it’s time that the Rabbis bravely stood up to this awful reality and preached some awareness of an immediate threat to their lives, rather than those perceived and future threats.
Much the same is true of the Arab population. There is a blatant disregard there too, leading to staggeringly high rates of accidents, injuries and deaths. Perhaps village elders, Imams, Arab Members of the Knesset can appeal to their target audiences.
Israel is a high-octane country; life is always moving in the fast lane, for better and for worse. Sadly, however, more people, regardless of ethnic or other origin, are killed on the roads every year than are killed by any other sort of violence – from within our borders as well as from without.
I love being home. I’ve always felt, despite my nomadic history and twenty previous addresses in the past thirty several years, that this is the place I want to be and where I want my children to grow up. Now that I’m back here, I plan to try to help make it that much better. That much safer.
And the drivers out there can help me.
I’d much rather lecture until I’m blue in the face with the knowledge that it may make a difference, than be left once again, at the side of the road literally picking up the pieces.