There is practically no correlation between the number of traffic citations issued by the police for a given violation and the degree to which that violation has contributed to causing accidents, according to police traffic department statistics for 2003.
Statistics show, for example, that 7,538 accidents with injuries that occurred in 2003 - 40 percent of all such accidents that year - were caused by not heeding traffic lights and signs, or by not yielding the right of way. However, only 13 percent of the citations issued by the police were for these infractions. In contrast, some 27 percent of citations issued in 2003 were for speeding, although speeding was the cause of only 7 percent of accidents, or some 1,300 accidents.
Statistics also show that 2,703 accidents with injuries, or 14 percent of the total for 2003, were caused by turning or switching lanes improperly, but only 7 percent of tickets issued were for these offenses. Similarly, 1,678 accidents with injuries, or 9 percent of total accidents, resulted from failure to give pedestrians the right of way or from the behavior of pedestrians, but only 4 percent of the citations issued in 2003 pertained to these infractions.
Police say that enforcement is crucial to the fight against traffic accidents, in the belief that if drivers are caught in a violation, suitable penalties will prevent recidivism. But according to transportation expert Dr. Moshe Becker, enforcement policies focus on infractions whose perpetrators are easy to catch. "The police are conducting their enforcement under the street lamp, but not in the dark, where the coin was lost," he said.
Becker believes that how a violation affects road safety is not always at the top of a traffic officer's priorities in catching violators. "Officers are actually in a situation where they are obligated to issue a large number of tickets; their obligation is not to safety," he said. He said the police focus on issuing tickets does not enhance public confidence in the process, but rather creates opposition to it.
In 2003, police issued some 1.2 million traffic citations. The fines brought approximately NIS 400 million into the state's coffers.
Becker noted that another cause of accidents is driving at a speed "not suited to the circumstances," which may not necessarily be over the speed limit. This infraction caused 5.3 percent of accidents in 2002, but no tickets were issued at all for this offense. He admitted that the speed commensurate with the circumstances can only be determined after the cause of an accident has been analyzed. However, he said, a police officer should be stationed at points where such accidents are liable to occur - for example, where large numbers of children cross the road - in order to warn drivers against driving too fast.
The head of research at the police's traffic department, Hezi Schwartzman, said numerous indictments have been issued in cases where driving at a speed unsuitable to the circumstances was determined to have caused an accident.
He also noted that when accidents with at least one fatality are considered separately from other accidents with injuries, there is a relatively high correlation between the number of citations issued for each violation and and that violation's relative weight among causes of accidents. Schwartzman said that this is in keeping with the policy of focusing most of the police's limited resources on reducing the number of accidents with fatalities.
Schwartzman stressed the importance of catching speeders, noting that there were 87 fatal accidents involving speeding last year, or 19 percent of all accidents involving fatalities in 2003. Some 27 percent of all citations were issued for speeding.
Speeding plays a significant role even in many accidents where the principle cause is a different violation, such as turning or switching lanes improperly. Speeding can turn a slight accident into a major or fatal one, he explained, because it is more difficult to stop at higher speeds. Schwartzman also noted that many citations are issued for infractions that do not cause accidents, such as not wearing seat belts, in order to change the driving culture.
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