One of the busiest roads in the country was shut down for at least three hours yesterday when a tractor-trailer overturned, lightly injuring the driver. Police are investigating whether he fell asleep at the wheel or just lost his concentration for a few moments.
The accident took place on the coastal highway at 6:30 A.M. The truck overturned when the driver, a 46-year-old man from Haifa, hit the guardrail between the Olga and Yanai interchanges, near Hadera, and blocked the road. Within minutes, traffic was backed up for more than two kilometers. Police blocked off nearby interchanges and diverted traffic to routes 4 and 6.
Some drivers gave up on going to work and headed home after waiting in their cars for several hours. Others headed for alternative routes, but those quickly became congested as well.
The road was reopened only after a crane was brought in to lift the overturned tractor-trailer. "A crane like that can only come from Tel Aviv or Haifa," said Ami Dahan, commander of the traffic police central district. "This crane has two trucks traveling with it to make it work."
The traffic soon spread from the highway to Army Radio's traffic studio. The number of calls skyrocketed yesterday.
"As the hours passed, people got angrier and more frustrated," said Benny Kavodi, who is in charge of traffic reports for the radio station. "College students called and asked us to say on the radio that they would be missing exams, soldiers called to ask us to inform their commanders, and some people actually yelled at us," Kavodi said. He said he expects dozens of people to call the station to back up their explanation of why they were late.
Although some said the traffic jam was "the longest in the country's history," Kavodi remains skeptical.
"There have been longer traffic jams," he said. "Three hours from one end to the other is bad, but we've seen worse. If the truck had crashed on the Ayalon Highway, it would be much worse, for instance. This was a long jam, but definitely not a record-breaker."
The accident that caused the traffic jam took place when a car cutting across the truck driver's lane startled him, the driver said.
Police were examining whether he fell asleep at the wheel or just lost his concentration for a few moments before the accident.
"We don't have an indication right now of what exactly cause the accident," Dahan said. "Initial findings indicate there are no skid marks, which can sometimes mean the driver has fallen asleep, but we're still investigating."
Assaf Adiv, director general of the Workers Advice Center, told Haaretz yesterday that the working conditions of the truck drivers are the primary reason for such accidents.
"The driver who the police say fell asleep at the wheel is one of 30,000 truck drivers whose basic salary is just minimum wage, and who for this reason work long hours and put themselves and other drivers at risk," said Adiv. "To make NIS 7,000 a month, a driver needs to work 12 to 15 hours a day. Drivers refusing to work more than 12 hours a day are immediately told they're not suitable for the job and dismissed."
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