Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Not enough truck drivers…?

I tend to think of myself as a “positive person” trying not to look back and to accept failure and disappointments, in order to learn from them.

I have been patient in responding to the daily moans about the rising deaths on the roads and most recently the revelation that there is a shortage of truck drivers and we may have to “import” some.

I can no longer stay silent and so leave it to the readers to decide

“Who is to blame”?

In 1993 together with the renowned road safety expert, physicist Professor Gerry Ben David z”l and other enlightened experts, a road safety organisation Metuna was founded in the conservative Synagogue in Netanya. Within days we had hundreds of members and volunteers.

Only weeks later the crash on the Arava road in which four soldiers who had been on a weekend leave in Eilat, were killed through speeding, aroused public feeling. The family of one of those tragic young victims was very supportive of our work and helped us to advance our activities, to many parts of the country.

In Jerusalem with high pedestrian casualties, we even went into adjoining Arab villages where there were no pavements,traffic lights or crossings, let alone safety precautions. There we found willing local volunteers. In the Sharon area and the Arab triangle we worked in harmony with educators,the police and other services. Mayors were all willing to improve their citizens lives.

The Hebrew meaning of METUNA – “Menyot Teunot’ was prevention of accidents. Our main aim was prevention of injuries, particularly in the towns. Professor Ben David had invented a camera called the MEROM and it was being used in other parts of the world but had to be proven here in Israel before the authorities would sanction it.

An initial experimental trial in Netanya over several months, produced an amazing result of an overall 68% drop in deaths,injuries,accidents and speeds along a fast road into the town which ran parallel to the sea.This was compared to the previous year. The then Head of the Road Safety Authority said “This project should be used all over Israel”

He was replaced and for bureaucratic reasons the project was halted and never continued.

Labels and titles are not important but the team of experts with whom we were fortunate to work, apart from “Gerry” as we knew him, also comprised a leading epidemiologist from the Hebrew University -Hadassah, a highly acclaimed Orthopedic Surgeon and specialist in disaster medicine, a town planner, a President of an acclaimed College of Technology and more. Our Chairman, Ivan Pope was an insurance expert.

Everyone donated their time and talents. We had one aim and that was to reduce road deaths and injuries.

We succeeded on many levels which I will not even refer to because many of the innovations and ideas which we presented after trials and successes, were ignored. It was when one person with private means decided that for him the issue of road death was of paramount importance and   literally took responsibility for the connection to public road safety activities, away from the Ministry of Transport, that the balance changed.

There were no more demonstrations or public lobbies with the exception of the tenacious Anashim B’Adom. Instead, there were highly organised volunteer activities, which are highly commendable.  Pressure was taken off the Ministry, so it all looked very promising. However that in itself does not save lives and today there’s confusion as how to deal with the situation.

The issue of truck drivers, conditions and hours of work, their problems and stress, were of great concern to Gerry who was also a deeply religious man and had an holistic approach to the issue. This included the personal needs and general welfare of the drivers which he considered essential, to avoid devastating results.

Did you know that in the Galilee village of Daburya every other household has a massive truck or trailer parked outside?.

Those who drive them no longer can work their forefather’s farming lands and become professional drivers so they can provide for their families. The  down side is that parking these vehicles so near to habitat creates an environmental problem. The toxic fumes from stationary vehicles for whom no parking arrangements on the parameter of the village have never been proposed, are unhealthy. There have also been cases of serious casualties to small children  who run around outside their homes.

By chance before I completed this blog, I happened to go to my physiotherapist at the Kupat Holim clinic in my neighbourhood. He lives in that village.  To be sure that I had my facts straight I asked him if the situation I had encountered, still exists. He was surprised that I knew and said “Yes”.

I responded  “Since most of those vehicles were built in the States by the same company,there’s probably a Guinness record to be had. He just smiled.

I personally accompanied “Gerry” to meetings with  Coca Cola and other companies who employ hundreds of drivers for their fleets of vehicles. Furthermore we met with the heads of the drivers associations and the safety officers of many companies.

We offered road safety training sessions, we lobbied the government to tighten up on rules for working hours and health considerations.Our medical experts spoke to them about sleep deprivation and impaired judgement,inertia and more.

What we found was that even if the road safety officer had the well being of the drivers at heart, the bosses did not.The concern was more for the welfare of the “truck” than its driver.. We argued too about the cost to the companies.How much would be saved if collisions(accidents) could be avoided. Today the  reports state the relatively high incidents of deaths from collisions with semi trailers and heavy lorries as opposed to car crashes.

So people like myself whose organisation received the” Knesset Speakers’ prize”1995-6 for Quality of Life – for saving lives must choke on  the lump in the throat.  It seems that all of our work including the “Speed Kills” Kill Speed” campaigns and the demand for more cameras, has blown in the wind of bureaucracy and tunnel vision.

Importing drivers? Well thats something new. If so, why not train some of those wonderful people rotting in Holot, whose only motivation to be here is so they can provide the wherewithal to live, to their families in darkest Africa?

I do hope that Gerry is not turning in his grave since all of his work was published, so there was never an excuse for it not to be used.

This is a tribute………………….to all of those parents,sisters brothers,husbands, wives and children who have died needlessly on our roads and to the wonderful Israeli scientists,doctors, service providers and volunteers who did so much so that it would lessen ………

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.