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Can crowdsourcing improve Israel’s driving culture?

Israel’s National Road Safety Authority for disclosed Sunday that there has been a worrying increase in road accidents and fatalities. A significant portion of the rise is due to driver behavior, and professionals agree that an increase in enforcement is needed alongside driver education campaigns.

A crowdsourcing app called Shomrei Haderech, “road guardians” in Hebrew, is trying to bring change through an army of volunteers. Shomrei Haderech users sent reports of more than 90,000 dangerous traffic incidents since the app was launched in 2016. Of these, some 11,000 led to letters being sent to drivers caught committing offenses, and 10,000 reports of incidents considered to be endangering lives were forwarded to the police.

The statistics indicate that more than 600 drivers were caught committing offenses more than once by app users.

Shomrei Haderech began as a civil initiative, and currently is operated in partnership with the Israel Police and the National Road Safety Authority. Its main goal is to change Israel’s driving culture. App users photograph drivers driving unsafely, and some of the reports are forwarded to the police. Offenders face fines and criminal charges, but the initiative also includes an educational aspect – drivers caught committing offenses are sent letters explaining the meaning of the offense, along with the photograph documentation.

In cases when a driver is caught committing a significant offense, the report is passed on to police.

The application was developed by the Nativ Batuach (Safe Lane) nonprofit organization. The app records a video of the road continuously as the volunteer drives, and when the volunteer observes a driver committing an offense, he or she can submit a report using voice recognition technology.

Yair Nativ.
Ezra Levy

The app takes the recorded message and converts it into text, which is sent on to a control center. Offenses that could cause fatal accidents — such as passing in a no-passing zone or failing to give pedestrians the right of way in a crosswalk — are sent on to the police.

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The initiative was started by Yair Nativ, who founded Nativ Batuach four years ago, after his father was killed in a road accident.

“We were both in the vehicle,” recalls Nativ. “A cement mixer, whose driver was found to have traces of drugs in his blood, ran a red light and hit us. This was the trigger that drove me and several partners to launch the project, under the knowledge that with civilian involvement and the right tools, we could help change the driving culture in Israel.”

The initiative doesn’t consider itself an alternative to the police, and its volunteers do not have policing powers.

Asked whether the program doesn’t take responsibility away from the police, Nativ states, “The country is its citizens, and they can be partners in the campaign [against accidents]. There are many tools that can enable this combination.”

The project is based on the philosophy that civilian involvement increases the government’s capability to address the matter.

“Our goal is to get to close to 100,000 volunteers who work alongside the authorities. If more and more civilians join us, and understand that the way to save lives is in our hands, we can enable everyone to leave home safely and return safely. That’s true wisdom of the crowd.”

On Sunday, the National Authority for Road Safety stated that the number of road fatalities had increased since the beginning of 2019. To date, some 300 people have been killed on Israel’s roads, a 9% increase from the parallel period of 2018. Last week alone there were six fatal accidents, which claimed nine lives.