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Every month the police traffic department publishes the latest statistics on traffic accident casualties. These figures are transmitted to the CBS (Central Bureau of Statistics), which also publishes monthly and yearly traffic casualties. The numbers form a basis for government policies in the war on road fatalities and injuries.

However, according to statistics compiled by hospital trauma departments, the numbers of those seriously injured in traffic accidents are higher by tens of percentage points than those reported by the traffic department. The difference can amount to thousands of injured people a year.

The police traffic department defined a person seriously injured in a traffic accident as someone who is hospitalized for at least 24 hours and not for observation. Dr. Koby Peleg, director of the Israel National Center for Trauma and Emergency Medicine Research, Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy Research at Tel Hashomer, which coordinates statistics on trauma from the various hospitals, says "the discrepancy between the numbers given by hospitals and the police is huge."

Peleg says that in 2001, the traffic department reported 2,644 persons seriously injured in traffic accidents. However he says that the eight trauma centers in Israel at that time reported 4,000 seriously injured people, using the traffic department's definition. Dr. Peleg says Health Ministry statistics put the number of people seriously injured in traffic accidents in all Israel's hospitals in 2001 at 10,400.

According to Dr. Peleg, the main problem with the variation in numbers is that the police statistics are the basis for government policy in traffic safety and accident prevention, and those numbers can be misleading. For example, according to traffic department statistics, the number of those seriously injured while riding their bicycles is said to be 10 per cent of the total.

Policy-makers may decide the problem is therefore not a serious one, when this is not the case.

Trauma centers define serious injury differently than the police. They use the Injury Severity Score (ISS) accepted throughout the world, which evaluates the patient's medical status as a basis for the definition.

According to this index, 41 per cent of severely injured people who come to hospitals are traffic casualties, although they are only one quarter of all injured people.

According to Hezi Schwartzman, the head of research at the police traffic department, the discrepancy between statistics as registered by the police and the hospitals arises from the fact that some injured people sign in at more than one hospital, one near the scene of the accident and another close to their home.

He adds that some people may go to the hospital as a result of accidents that are not reported to the police. Schwartzman said that experiments carried out by his department confirmed the theory that patients moving from one hospital to another were the reason for the statistical discrepancy, as well as patients who were not Israeli citizens, and the difference in the definition of a severely injured person by the police as opposed to the hospital.

Schwartzman said a committee established to deal with the issue, in cooperation with the CBS, examined the definition and it was decided to continue using the definition accepted by the Israeli police and police all over the world.

Small discrepancies also exist with regard to the number of traffic deaths reported by police compared to the Central Bureau of Statistics. In a January 2004 press conference, the traffic department reported 482 traffic deaths in 2003. Three weeks later, the CBS reported that the number was 485.

Since the numbers of deaths are supplied by the police to the CBS, there should be no discrepancies. However according to Dr. Moshe Becker, a traffic expert, the police are in a hurry to report enforcement-related achievements, and therefore they do not wait the required amount of time - one month - after injury, during which time a severely injured person may die.

The head of traffic statistics at the CBS, Ariyeh Avraham, notes that discrepancies may also arise from the fact that the police make their report at the beginning of each month, and the CBS in the middle of the month. The Transport Ministry announced recently that it is moving ahead with a plan to establish a national data base for traffic accident statistics.

Deaths down, accidents up

According to the CBS, and based on numbers provided by the police traffic department, 2003 saw a sharp decline in the number of traffic deaths to the lowest in 21 years.

However the numbers show a very slight reduction in the number of accidents: 17,633 in 2003, 18,490 in 2002 and 18,140 in 2001.

In 2003, the number of severly injured fell to 2,359 from 2.419 in 2002 and 2,644 in 2001.

The head of research in the traffic department, Hezi Schwartzman, attributed the decline in traffic deaths to better infrastructure and enforcement, among other factors.