Dead Man Walking

Two weeks ago, 7-year-old Stav Atias was hit by a car and killed as she got off the school bus that picked her up every day.

A few days ago 6-year-old Nafisa Makma died after she was hit by a car in a tunnel near the LaGuardia intersection in Tel Aviv.

These accidents, as well as hundreds of other traffic accidents involving pedestrians hit by vehicles, happen under various and unpredictable circumstances.

But according to recently gathered data and surveys, there is a clear trend. The number of pedestrians injured or killed in traffic accidents is on the rise. For years, Israel has had the highest rate in the developed world of pedestrians killed as a proportion of the overall fatalities in traffic accidents: about 36 percent.

Ireland runs a distant second with about 26 percent of those killed in traffic accidents being pedestrians. In Portugal the rate is 25 percent; in the U.K. 23 percent and 11 percent in the U.S.

In 2008, 450 people were killed in traffic accidents in Israel, of which 156 were pedestrians - a jump of 17 percent from the number of pedestrians killed in 2007. About 3,000 pedestrians were injured in 2008, 364 of those seriously.

So far numbers for 2009 do not auger well for the future. A recent probe by the police's traffic division revealed that 40 percent of those killed in traffic accidents since the start of the year were pedestrians, most of which occurred at crosswalks.

Police data shows 75 percent of traffic accidents involving pedestrians in urban areas were caused by drivers and 20 percent of those hurt were children.

The police's traffic department, the Or Yarok association and the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA) believe things could be better. According to recent research done for the NRSA, the high proportion of pedestrian fatalities in Israel is the result of joint carelessness on the part of walkers as well as drivers: 17 percent of pedestrians jaywalk and 39 percent don't look both ways when crossing the street.

Among children, 33 percent of those ages 9 to 12 and 28 percent of those ages 5 to 8 did not pause before crossing the street at crosswalks. None of the children in the study, however, crossed the street during a red light.

About 39 percent of senior citizens, which accounted for almost half of those hurt in traffic accidents involving pedestrians in 2008, did not pause at crosswalks.

Dangerous city

Not surprisingly, most traffic accidents involving pedestrians occurred in urban areas. Police statistics show 86 percent of pedestrians seriously injured and 63 percent of those killed in traffic accidents were involved in accidents in cities and towns.

Some cities are more dangerous than others. Or Yarok's analysis of data provided by the NRSA and the Central Bureau of Statistics showed that the most dangerous city for pedestrians between 2004 and 2008 was Hadera, which has an average of 2.8 pedestrians killed or seriously hurt per 10,000 people. About 21.6 local denizens die or are seriously injured in traffic accidents every year.

Hadera's municipality said it had taken measures to increase pedestrian safety.

"In recent months the Hadera municipality has set up a special committee on road safety that aims at increasing awareness and carrying out other activities related to road safety," the municipality responded.

Among the five biggest cities in the country, the worst for pedestrians is Haifa, with 1.99 dead or seriously injured pedestrians per 10,000 citizens; 52.8 on average per year. Tel Aviv-Jaffa is second, with 1.58 dead or badly hurt pedestrians per 10,000 citizens; 62 on average per year. Over the past five years, 466 pedestrians have been killed and 2,596 seriously injured.

Six of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians, Tamra, Sakhnin, Arabeh, Umm al-Fahm, Baka al-Garbiyeh and Shagur are Israeli Arab. Three other dangerous cities, the aforementioned Haifa, Tiberias and Acre, are mixed.

The good news is that in 12 cities, no pedestrians have been killed in the past five years. Those include Eliat, Elad, Beit Shemesh, Givat Shmuel, Yehud, Modi'in, Modi'in Illit, Maale Adumim, Pardes Hannah, Kiryat Bialik and Rosh Ha'ayin. However, a disproportionately high number of pedestrians have been involved in non-fatal traffic accidents in three of those cities: Eilat, Pardes Hannah and Nazareth.

Most traffic accidents involving pedestrians on inter-city roads were caused by pedestrians. Usually, accidents took place when pedestrians were engaged in sports, crossed the road illegally or hurriedly, stopped their cars in dangerous areas or were dropped off from a vehicle at an unsuitable location.

"Walking is the most common form of transportation in Israel but the least protected: Pedestrians have a 70 percent chance of surviving being hit by a car at 70 kilometers an hour but at 80 kilometers they stand no chance," Or Yarok Director-General Shmuel Aboav told Haaretz. "There are ways to change situation in which pedestrians are killed: by placing physical barriers to limit vehicles' speed in busy areas with speed bumps, roundabouts and traffic lights. In addition, we can limit driver's speed to 30 kilometers per hour in areas with many pedestrians. We can also increase law enforcement against drivers with traffic offenses against pedestrians as well as against pedestrians that have traffic offenses that endanger themselves and the environment."

Police traffic division chief Avi Ben-Hemo called on the public to watch pedestrians on the road.

"Children and elderly people can sometimes make mistakes when crossing the road but they shouldn't be given death sentences for those," Ben-Hemo said.

Fadi Eyadat also contributed to this article