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slowing down Israel’s drivers

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Over the past month, I started listening to some audiobooks.  I know what you’re thinking, but when you don’t have a car and you walk everywhere, audiobooks become a great way to pass the time.  The first audiobook I “read” was a recent controversial economics book called Superfreakonomics.  I liked this book because it took a microeconomic method to measuring everyday problems and the solutions that work.  They don’t ask how we can stop global warming; they ask how we can cool down the earth.  They don’t ask how to stop prostitution; they look for how (and if) it can be brought to a realistic best-case scenario.

While walking and “reading” I could not help but notice a large traffic jam.  This got me thinking about what causes traffic accidents in Israel.  Were one to listen to public service announcements on the radio, one would think the #1 killer on the road is drunk driving.  But Israelis don’t drink so much more than the citizens do in other western countries.  And while drunk driving is dangerous, most drunk drivers do not get into accidents (although they are much more likely to do so).  So then what makes Israel’s drunk drivers so dangerous?

Another commercial break on galgalatz got me thinking that the problem is drivers’ daydreaming.  This is clearly a very hard statistic to measure.  The only thing I can attest to is that I don’t see this being too much of an issue in Israel.  Not nearly as much as what I think it is the real heart of the beast.

In my opinion, drivers in Israel are dangerous due to a lack of patience.  Everyone is always cutting one another off, out of fear of being considered a “friar” (slang for loser) for being nice to someone on the road.  Yes, you read correctly, “friar.”  I learned this term after moving here, and apparently every Israeli’s biggest fear is being thought a “friar.”   “Better death than friardom” would be a good motto for Israel.

Back to the main point.  I don’t think I am alone in my evaluation of the situation.  Many others I have spoken to identify lack of patience as the #1 killer on the road.  Of course, this is very hard to measure and not simple to wipe out.  In an “I want it now” kind of world, this problem will probably only get worse.  

So what is the solution?  Should we have an economic policy that gets people off the roads (prohibitive tariffs on cars etc)?  Should we just live with it and keep trying the same public service campaigns that probably don’t do much?  Maybe we can have a program in schools to teach Israelis to be patient.

I personally believe the answer lies with science and engineering.  For one, Israel can make it a law that cars cannot go over a certain limit.  Why does a car need a feature that allows it to go 180 KPH if the highest speed limit is 120?  Perhaps mechanics should find a way to slow it down a bit.  Also, if the problem is drunk driving, make a breathalyzer test necessary for starting a car after 9 PM.  The same way Israelis have number codes for starting a car, we can have breathalyzers.  And if you’re afraid the person will get someone else to breath into it for him, consider why would a friend breathe to start someone else’s car.  If he is sober, then he can drive his friend home.  The fact that the friend needs him to breathe will probably stop a most friends from letting friends drive drunk (nothing can stop everything.) 

But none of this addresses our core problem, a lack of patience.  That is why I think Israel should invest creating something in a car to calm people down. Perhaps a certain smell can keep people calm, maybe a certain melody that plays when the car starts, perhaps something in the air.

I would be interested to see how the costs for these technologies compares with the cost that Israel pays economically with drivers in traffic, people dying on the road, and of course the public service announcements. Perhaps just a small shift in investing our money for safe roads can keep us safer longer.

Did I just advocate drugging Israel’s drivers.  Apparently so.  If you have any other solutions, please list them below.

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