RAMALLAH, West Bank — West Bank drivers: Smile for the camera and consider yourselves warned.
The Palestinian Ministry of Transportation is equipping safety patrol vehicles with cameras to capture traffic violations on roads between Palestinian cities. Transportation Minister Assem Salem said in a May 28 press release the new approach is intended "to achieve a safe traffic environment and reduce road accidents, which kill or injure citizens and destroy their property.”
Salem added, “The ministry, in cooperation with the traffic police, will impose a series of penalties and legal proceedings against violators of traffic laws." Most notably, penalties will include withdrawing licenses, impounding vehicles and forcing offending drivers to take training courses.
Accidents and deaths significantly increased in the West Bank in 2018. According to Palestinian police statistics, there were 12,829 accidents — an 11.2% increase over 2017. Accidents in 2018 killed 125 people, a rise of 16% over 2017 when 108 deaths were recorded.
The statistics further show that by far the highest number of deaths occurred on roads connecting Palestinian cities, although there were just slightly more than half as many accidents. In 2018, there were 8,536 accidents and 51 related deaths on Palestinian city streets, while there were only 4,293 accidents but 74 deaths on roads connecting cities.
In 2018, traffic police issued some 221,000 citations because drivers were speeding, using their cell phones, not wearing seatbelts, failing to obey traffic signs, or because their vehicle registration was expired or they had no registration papers.
Issam Yamin, director of road safety vehicles at the Transportation Ministry, told Al-Monitor the camera project is the first of its kind in Palestine, especially on outer roads where there is no official police presence. Road safety vehicles are intensifying their efforts beginning this month.
Thirteen such vehicles now operate in the West Bank; there were only three a couple of years ago. “All the vehicles are equipped with cameras and deployed around the West Bank — five vehicles to the north, four vehicles in the central West Bank and four vehicles in the south,” Yamin said.
“The transportation minister has a vision to equip the ministry’s public vehicles and government vehicles from various ministries to have a larger number of cameras and thus greater control and presence on those roads,” he noted.
Transportation Ministry Spokesman Mohammed Hamdan told Al-Monitor the safety vehicles' drivers will document violations on roads outside the city and transfer the information to traffic police to take legal action. The vehicles can also monitor other areas where the Palestinian police don't operate, such as Area C, which is under Israel's control.
Al-Mashreq Insurance Co. donated the cameras. Nihad al-Assaad, general manager of the company, told Al-Monitor the cameras can serve as a deterrent, reminding drivers to be careful and respect the laws, thereby reducing the number of accidents.
Assaad declined to say how much the cameras cost but noted they can take highly accurate videos and pictures, helping insurance companies determine, in some cases, the payout to accident victims.
They also can help reduce the money paid by the Palestinian Road Accident Casualties Compensation Fund (PRACCF), which in certain instances helps victims who aren't covered by insurance companies.
“The fund is financed entirely by citizens," former PRACCF director Wadah al-Khatib told Al-Monitor. The amount citizens contribute varies depending on their car's model and engine size, but the cost ranges from 80 shekels to 160 shekels ($22 to $44). In 2018, Khatib said, PRACCF paid out 18 million shekels ($5 million) in compensation, and since its establishment in 1995, it has paid around $55 million.
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