The number of serious accidents has dropped in areas where special nighttime buses are operating, says a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center.
Based on data from the police and the National Road Safety Authority, the report indicates that most cities that operate buses from midnight until 4 A.M. saw a drastic reduction in the number of accidents resulting in casualties and fatalities during those hours.
Following publication of the report, the Knesset Research and Information Center is recommending expanding this service to different areas and for more hours.
Night buses were first introduced in Jerusalem five years ago to reduce the number of inebriated drivers, particularly young ones, on the road. Currently some 41 lines, serving 50 locales, operate on Thursday and Saturday nights. During vacations, the buses operate on other nights as well. Friday night buses operate only in Haifa and its surroundings.
According to the Road Safety Authority, serious accidents in Haifa were reduced by 39 percent during the period of 2007/8 to 2009/10. The police's data point to a 33-percent drop in Haifa, but the disparity is likely attributable to different definitions of "serious" accidents.
A similar trend was seen elsewhere: The number of serious accidents in Jerusalem decreased by 11 percent, the authority says, and by 9 percent, according to the police, from 2006/7 to 2008/9,. In Tel Aviv the figures were, respectively, 6 percent and 3 percent lower in 2010/11 than in 2008/9.
The report, written by Yaniv Ronen, also says that while nationally there was a 15-percent reduction in serious accidents between 2006 and 2010, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, there was a 21 percent decrease.
"In other words," says Ronen, "the rate of reduction in serious accidents was almost 40 percent higher in those cities that operated bus lines at night in contrast to those that did not."
According to a recent survey by the Transportation Ministry, 52,000 passengers used the night lines in the summer of 2011, 19 percent of them in order to be able to consume alcohol without worrying about getting behind the wheel.
"This translates into some 10,000 drivers less during the specified night hours every week - drivers who, without the buses, might have been driving under the influence of alcohol," according to the Knesset report.
The Transportation Ministry survey also pointed out that 80 percent of the night bus users are under the age of 24. In 2010, 15 percent of all drivers in Israel were under 24, but they accounted for 21 percent of the serious accidents that year.
"Young drivers account for a relatively large number of serious accidents," the Knesset report concludes, "therefore we can safely assume that encouraging these drivers to use public transportation can further reduce serious accidents."
Dov Khenin (Hadash ), who initiated the Knesset report believes that "it proves that the night buses are a positive step not only for social, transportation and environmental reasons, but they also save lives. When we consider young people who are out drinking wine, beer or other alcoholic beverages, it is unrealistic to expect them to drive home safely. That's why there should be more night service of this kind."
Khenin believes that the fact that night buses are not at present in service in most cities on Friday nights - the favored night out among most young people - is "absurd."
"Since this is a question of saving lives, I believe we can reach agreements with various elements who would otherwise be reluctant to agree, since they, too, have to see that saving lives is more important than Shabbat," says Khenin. "I see this report as a breakthrough. This is a practical document which should usher in specific changes, albeit not necessarily a revolution in public transport during the weekend."
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Holdai and municipal coalition leaders are due to discuss a motion tomorrow to operate bus lines on the weekends. The Transportation Ministry has yet to respond to a request by a Tel Aviv official to operate seven new lines on Shabbat; without ministry approval the city cannot operate the lines.
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