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Vehicle owners in Israel pay an annual NIS 17 billion to the state in various fees, taxes and fines imposed on them, according to figures presented Monday to a subcommittee of the Knesset Economics Committee by Dr. Moshe Becker, an expert on road accidents.

According to the data, motorists pay insurance companies another NIS 9 billion, which goes toward compensating them for damages from road accidents. On the other hand, the figures show the state's investment in the battle against road accidents totals some NIS 650 million on average each year.

The subcommittee, headed by MK Gilad Erdan, held a session Monday on the campaign against road accidents, hosting Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Becker spoke to the panel about the need to close the gap between income from vehicles and the state's investment in preventing accidents, urging that money collected from vehicle owners be channeled into projects aimed at preventing road accidents (such as road and rail infrastructure projects, law enforcement operations, and education and information campaigns).

According to Becker, road accidents cost the economy some NIS 10 billion a year.

Lieberman said that if the budget for the fight against road accidents was increased by NIS 100 million a year, the economic damage from road accidents could be reduced by NIS 1 billion each year. The transportation minister asked Netanyahu to refrain from making cuts to the budget of the National Road Safety Authority and to allocate ministries with budgets specifically earmarked for the battle on road accidents.

After listening to the speakers, Netanyahu agreed to allocate hundreds of millions of shekels to the fight against road accidents for a period of three to four years. He suggested that the subcommittee put together a model for the fight against road accidents that would significantly reduce the casualty rate: "We can find budgetary solutions for this," the finance minister said. "The problem is not only finding the resources, but also to work in the right manner. We are willing to invest in things that will save lives, to reduce the number of road accidents by 50 percent, for example, in three to four years."

During the debate, Erdan voiced doubts regarding the government's efforts to eradicate road accidents. To illustrate the extent of the carnage on the roads, Erdan noted that since the establishment of the state, some 22,500 have been killed in road accidents - as opposed to 21,000 who have been killed in the country's wars.

Erdan added that during the three years of the intifada, some 900 Israelis had been killed as a result of security incidents, as opposed to some 1,500 people who had died on the roads in the same period.

Becker, who is employed as an advisor to the subcommittee, said Monday that the most important project that had to be put into practice right now involved making an orderly record of all the problems relating to the country's roads, together with drawing up a list of projects that have to be implemented to deal with the road accidents.

He added that after each project was evaluated in terms of cost versus benefit, it would be possible to determine a list of priorities.

Despite the existing gap between the state's revenues and investments in the matter, Becker said, the treasury had plans to reduce the budgets allocated to road safety, citing the expected cut in the budget of the National Road Safety Authority. The authority's annual budget over the past few years has totaled some NIS 150-160 million.