The Road From Hell

Keinan Avidor and his friend Sa'ar Wolfman were killed on a Saturday morning in July 2004. The two 17 year-olds were driving with Wolfman's sister along Route No. 65, between the Kibbutz Ravid junction and the Nahal Tzalmon junction, when their car collided with another vehicle traveling in the opposite lane, carrying a family from Ramat Gan. The youths were killed on the spot while the other passengers were seriously injured.

"Had there been a separation barrier between the lanes, their deaths could have been prevented," says Tali Ezra, Keinan's mother. Like her, traffic experts and accident examiners know the section of the road where the youths were killed has to be paved differently.

Since that accident, another 27 people have been killed on this road. Apart from a few pinpoint repairs, nothing has been done to prevent the reoccurrence of fatal accidents along a 33-kilometer section.

"The volume of traffic on this section of the road has for a long time already justified turning it into a two-lane highway on both sides, and other improvements," says Dr. Moshe Becker, an expert on transportation and road safety. Route No. 65 starts with the descent from the Coastal Highway at the Caesarea intersection, crosses over to Afula and Kfar Tavor, and ends at the Kedarim junction.

"Almost anyone who travels from the center to the Galilee uses this road," Becker says. The volume of traffic on the road is growing, especially during weekends. On the section leading from the exit from Upper Afula as far as Kfar Tavor, an average of 25,000 vehicles travel every day. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, some 16,000 vehicles travel daily from Kfar Tavor to the Golani junction; from the Golani junction to the Ilabun junction, there are some 23,000 vehicles per day; and from Ilabun to the Nahal Tzalmon junction, there are 14,500 vehicles daily.

Becker: "Forty years ago, the standard was determined, according to which this road would have become a four-lane highway, serving an average of 10,000 vehicles per day. As funding decreased, however, the standards changed. First, the threshold was raised to 13,000 vehicles per day and then 16,000 vehicles. Even according to these standards, and in view of the high number of casualties, the section we are talking about should already have been two-lane."

Claims Chief Inspector Uzi Hadar, head of the Israel Police's Amakim region's traffic-accident division: "If there were a separation barrier between the lanes, almost all the fatal accidents could have been avoided." He, too, describes the road as "unforgiving" - one where any slight mistake probably leads to a fatal collision.

And indeed, an analysis of the accidents reveals that 24 of the 29 fatalities on this road in the last 52 months were from head-on collisions. "The section of the road we are talking about has many sharp turns, and certain downhill parts let you quickly accelerate. But any deviation at these points makes for a fatal accident," Becker explains, citing yet another defect: a lack of proper lighting.

"That stretch of the road is wide and gives the false impression that it is possible to drive at high speed," explains Superintendent Jack Dan, the former head of the traffic-accidents division in the Amakim area. Hadar also pointed out bends in the road where it is not possible to travel at the legal speed limit, 80 or 90 kilometers per hour.

Local intervention and public pressure have improved the situation at some points. For instance, the principal of the Kadoorie agricultural school and the head of the Lower Galilee regional council fought to widen and fix the Kadoorie junction after Yanna Borschechinsky, a pupil at the school, was killed while crossing the road.

"The criminal negligence with respect to the outlying areas of the country is reflected in the way [the authorities] neglect the most significant transport artery of the north and Galilee," says Motti Dotan, the council head. "It has to be remembered that even north of Hadera and south of Gedera, there are human beings whose lives are in danger from the moment they are on the road."

The Transportation Ministry spokesman says, in response, that new plans are in the works to deal with Route No. 65. "This includes barriers at the existing traffic lights and an additional lane on each side," he says. "Along with the progress of the statutory permits, we will take steps to budget them."

Ma'atz, the national public works company, says it is planning to improve Route 65 between the Golani junction and the Amiad junction, including widening the road to two lanes on each side and even to three lanes, if necessary. The company is continuing to deal with specific spots where there are safety problems, the spokesman notes, adding that the Nin, Beit Keshet and Kadoorie junctions had been improved this year.

But those improvements have come too late for the Mahmid family of Umm al-Fahm, where these days, Riad Mahmid and his family are caring for his two nephews, Basel, 11, and Nidal, 13. Two and a half years ago, the children lost their parents, Mohammed and Aida, and their 5-year-old brother Udai, when the family's car collided with a truck. Even today, the children are still suffering from their injuries; Nidal is on a respirator and needs constant care. "Our lives were destroyed," Riad says. "I didn't cry after the accident, I said we had to be strong for the children's sake. Now when I see them, I can't stop crying." And, he adds: "This is a real war, on this road, and something must be done."