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Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently approved a budget of NIS 7 million for 2003 to improve road infrastructure and enhance safety on the 13 most dangerous nonurban roads in Israel.

The budget is based on recommendations compiled by a team comprising representatives from the Public Works Department and the traffic police, which singled out 10 roads on which, since 1999, there have been three times as many accidents as the national average, and another three roads with problematic infrastructure. Drivers must be allowed a greater margin of error, traffic police engineer Yaron Sharon explained.

Although the human factor is usually considered the number-one cause of traffic accidents, experts in the transportation industry maintain that inadequate infrastructure is greatly to blame for the severity of injuries on the road. Coupled with difficult topography, the problem worsens: Without barriers and guard rails, drivers who stray from their lane can collide head-on with vehicles coming from the opposite direction, hit light posts or go off the road altogether.

For example, four months ago, a 24-year-old man was killed on his way from Shfaram to Nazareth, when on the steep road down to the Hamovil Junction, he strayed into the lane of oncoming traffic and crashed into a truck that was overtaking another vehicle. There is no barrier separating the two lanes on this two-way road.

Dan Link of the National Road Safety Authority (created following legislation of the National Struggle against Road Accidents Law of 1997 to coordinate and supervise all activities relating to the prevention of road accidents in Israel), said that infrastructure, which also includes such elements as sidewalks, safety rails, barriers and road signs, plays an important role in preventing road accidents. Without adequate signage, drivers use their own discretion and overtake in dangerous places too.

"Adequate infrastructure can prevent surprises on the road and enhance safety," Link said. For this purpose, there is need for "a forgiving infrastructure" that can turn potentially lethal accidents into ones in which victims only sustain light or moderate injuries at worst.

Link offers streetlights as another example. Since they are so close to the road, collisions with them could result in fatalities. Such was the case in an accident two years ago on the Begin Highway in Jerusalem, when a driver crashed into a streetlight, in the absence of any barrier between the traffic lanes and the posts.

Although the authority warned the Jerusalem Municipality of this hazard before the accident, Link says, nothing has been done about it even to date. The municipality responded that it had never undertaken to relocate the streetlights, adding that during 2003, the city will take care of problematic spots, including the streetlight. To prevent crashes into streetlights from being lethal, Link proposes collapsible poles, which will reduce the impact.

The absence of forgiving infrastructure is especially conspicuous outside urban areas, Link says. It is not that difficult to isolate the contribution of infrastructure to road accidents, he notes.

Link's comments are mirrored in a report submitted to President Moshe Katsav six months ago by a parliamentary investigation committee. Israel significantly lags behind the Western World in terms of road infrastructure, and this factor contributes to the number of road accidents on nonurban roads, the report states.