Thursday, April 01, 2010

On behalf of my family

Bryan Atinsky, who lost his family in car accident, calls for change in Israel's driving culture

Bryan Atinsky

It is funny to talk about love at first sight, but when I first spotted Efrat when she visited my apartment at the time in Givataim, as a friend of my roommate Michal, I immediately changed plans and invited myself with them to some concert that was playing at the art museum in Tel Aviv that day. From then on I was intrigued by her intelligence, her deep ethics and her Yemenite beauty. She became my closest friend and lover and we married three years later in December of 2002. We loved to play guitar together, and sing and go to concerts and walk in nature, and her calm and methodical ways complemented my more hyper and spontaneous tendencies. She was a woman of deep convictions and love for her family. She was the first person in her whole family to ever not only go through university, but receive a PhD, and this was an aspect of pride for her whole family. Seeing her dedication and work that she was doing in her post doctorate, leaves me with sadness at the loss of potential that she could have brought to this world.

Scene of horrific accident (Photo: Herzel Yosef)

My five year old daughter Noam was my other best friend in the whole world. We were a lot alike in many ways, from the curly hair, to our sense of humor and irreverence. Every day she filled me with joy, asking questions about the world that allowed me to see again the mystery and awe-inspiringness of the universe through the eyes of a child searching for discoveries. Noam had a love for music and dance and art and cinema and even wrote a play for her 5th birthday party. She had, along with me, a voracious appetite for graphic novels and stories.

At bedtime, my wife, Efrat would have to remind me to stop reading and get out of Noam’s bedroom each night because neither of us would want to end our readings together. We had a close bond that will forever be remembered by me, but forever be a scar in my heart.

Ya’ari, my son and my youngest child was just beginning to truly show his personality. He always had a smile and laugh (except when he was hungry, which he would let us all know loudly), and loved to be cuddled, played with and sung too. He would jump for hours in his jumper with glee. With his chubby cheeks and his Yemenite complexion, we all thought he looked like a little cuddly Eskimo baby. My heart hurts at the thought of the loss of ever being able to get to know him as a fully developed individual.

Esther Gamliel, my mother in law was a loyal and loving grandmother, wife, mother in law, and parent to all her children. She helped Efrat and I for many years in so many ways and came to visit us in Athens, Georgia (USA), twice in one year to visit and help us with our new child Ya’ari, and celebrate Noam’s fifth birthday.

Since becoming aware of their death due to the inappropriate and selfish actions of the driver who killed my beloved family, my life has taken a tailspin, and my bereavement is the hardest thing I have ever been through, sometimes making me feel as if I am being ripped apart. But I know that they would want me to continue with my life in as fulfilling a way as possible, and I KNOW that they would want their tragedy to not have been in vain. That is why I feel obligated to work, in their name to do all I can to change the driving culture on the roads in Israel, and to demand of the police and government to enforce the laws of the road, so that the likelihood that this terror will occur to others, will be significantly reduced.

Harsh enforcement of existing laws

Many people argue that “Drivers, not road, are to blame for deadly crashes.” This commonly accepted point is understandable, knowing the wild and aggressive behavior of Israelis on the road, but it is fallacious. We Israelis should be asking ourselves why Israeli driving culture has deteriorated so. Like all human beings, we are broadly self-interested actors, who will modify their behaviors depending on the potential personal cost of our actions. At the moment, in Israel, there is, for whatever reason, a serious disconnect between peoples’ actions and any thought of a real, immediate consequence.

This is the reason that the behavior continues. It is not some essentialist part of the Israeli genes or Israeli culture that we "just have to live with." In the end, the police are responsible for creating a sense of responsibility and change in behavior among the drivers in Israel. And if manpower and budget are not allocated immediately to change this situation, then these deaths are the direct blame of the Government and Police. They should not get away with blaming bad drivers. It is a structural and institutional issue that facilitates their bad driving behavior and it is a structural and institutional solution that is needed.

A happy family (Reproduction photo: Avi Moalem)

While educating good behavior in our schools and communities and having PR advertisements on the television and the radio, reminding people of the need for good driving behavior are a small part of the solution, they are miniscule in comparison to the need to enforce EXISTING laws on the books and to move quickly to contemplate what is the threshold needed regarding fining and incarceration of individuals that will reach the critical mass needed to significantly cause a change in the culture of driving in Israel. While educating our children in grade school about good driving ethics may sound good, we don’t have the time to wait 15 years until they are drivers to change the situation

Harsh enforcement of existing laws, however, will have direct and immediate impact. Moreover, from an understanding of the way in which behavior modification is most efficiently accomplished, immediate reward and punishment is essential to having a more lasting effect on behavior. So while having cameras set up is one part of a solution, the fact that they receive their punishment in the form of a fine in the mail so far down the line, limits its effectiveness.

That is why it is so important to have large number of hidden speed traps with the real presence of human police officers on the road, and the constant changing of location of those speed traps. Where I grew up in the Milwaukee suburbs (and am now staying since my family was killed), people are hesitant to drive even eight kilometers per hour over the speed limit, because they NEVER know where or when a police car will be hidden behind a tree somewhere to give them a ticket for speeding. The same goes for the fear of turning lanes without using ones blinkers or passing in a no passing zone (which is what killed my entire family.)

Direct consequences

One excuse given for the slowness of change in Israel on this subject is budgetary. However, it’s the government’s duty to its citizens to protect our safety. They talk about “security,” but spend only NIS 440 million on the budget of the Road Safety Authority, less than 1% of the Defense Budget. This despite the fact that many more people die in car accidents than in wars and terrorism.

But in point of fact, it is very apparent that a culture of good driving behavior begins with the basics. All everyone needs to do is look around their own neighborhood and see that it is sometimes almost impossible to discern whether a road is one way or two way, because people will park on the left against traffic at their whim if there is an open space. This is against the law and dangerous. In the past, my wife Efrat and I got into a scrape (luckily going at a slow speed in a small neighborhood) when a car that was parked against traffic pulled out directly into our lane.

Four graves (Photo: Avi Moalem)

Now ask yourself, have you EVER seen someone ticketed (you yourself included) for this illegal (and potentially dangerous act)? You know the answer is no. There is simply no enforcement of even this BASIC traffic law. And this fact definitely has influence on the Israeli public’s simple sense of disregard for a culture of good driving. One suggestion that I have that should be immediately implemented is that municipalities should first go to all cars parked on the wrong side of the road against traffic and put a warning sticker on their vehicles stating something along the line of “You have parked illegally against traffic and this existing law will begin to be enforced on X day in two weeks time. This is your last warning. On X day, you will be fined 400 shekels for this traffic violation.”

Why is this so important? Because it will begin to get the Israeli public to understand on a basic and direct level that that there are proper safe behaviors on the road and that there are direct consequences for their actions of ignoring these rules of behavior.

While there may be some apprehension on the part of the Israeli public to actually call for harsher fines and stronger policing upon themselves, this is not my intention in the least. Instead we should be thinking of this in the most positive way possible. If the driving culture in Israel can be changed after the initial shock of increased enforcement, I have no doubt in my mind that Israel could reach the level of countries like in Scandinavia and the UK, where adherence to traffic laws are much more an ingrained part of cultural behavior and the percentage of needless deaths on the road are much fewer.

I have lost my family already to this current situation, and while I can never turn back the dial and get my loved ones back, I do not want any other Israelis to have to go through the utter terror and ripping apart of their heart and soul that I am going through. If my calls for the police, government and the citizenry to take upon themselves the needed budget, resources and manpower to make this less likely to happen in the future, than that is all I can now do to honor the deep and everlasting love I have for Efrat, Noam, Ya’ari and Esther.

Comment: I join your quest and ask that all caring Israel's do the same. The lack of respect on our roads is killing people-a red light is only a suggestion to many-stop the madness.

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