The director of the National Road Safety Authority said Tuesday that reckless driving in the Arab community has been causing a disproportionately high death rate among its drivers, and asserted the problem was one of attitude, not infrastructure.
A day after four people were killed and several others injured in an accident in the north, Giora Romm told Army Radio that country’s Arab leadership has been negligent in addressing the issue. According to him, although Arabs are just 20 percent of the population they account for 30% of road deaths. In 2016, 43% of the drivers killed in car accidents were Arabs, he added.
“Since the beginning of the year there were 11 Jews and 11 Arabs killed,” said Romm.
Figures released last week by the Central Bureau of Statistics showed that 376 people were killed in 2016 on Israel’s roads, compared to 356 in 2015.
The fatalities Monday happened when a car collided head-on with a minibus on Route 886. The three occupants of the car, aged 18,17, and 15, died at the scene, while a woman, 58, who was in the minibus, died later in the hospital. All four were members of Israel’s Arab minority.
An initial investigation indicated that the car was speeding and swerved into oncoming traffic.
“Even if there was some kind of dividing barrier, the life of the elderly person is the only one that would have been saved; the three younger people would have been killed in the same way,” said Romm, a former lieutenant-general in the Israel Air Force who later headed the Civil Aviation Authority. “This is a matter of wild, irresponsible driving that leads to an unacceptable percentage of deaths in the Arab community.”
He said that the road safety authority has been trying to gain traction in the Arab community and has sought to “meet anyone we can about the matter.
“There is a deep problem in the Arab community,” Romm continued. “Reckless driving and no discipline as an expression of frustration are not in the purview of the National Road Safety Authority. This is a matter that the Arab leadership needs to deal with and it is not dealing with it as required.”
As part of its efforts to improve road safety in the community, the authority intends to present a wide-ranging plan to all Arab lawmakers at the end of the month.
“We are going to invest a huge amount of money in this,” Romm promised.
Last month the Knesset Finance committee approved new regulations that will see hikes in fines for speeding and running red lights.
A November 2016 state comptroller report found multiple faults with efforts by the Road Safety Authority, the Transportation Ministry, and the Education Ministry to reduce the number of road deaths in Israel, even as the figures for fatalities rose over the previous two years.
The authority receives its budget from the Transportation Ministry and is charged with funding and administering activities to improve road safety and raise awareness, including educational activities in the school system. Its budget in 2014 was NIS 276 million ($73 million), but dropped to NIS 230 million for 2015.