Friday, June 15, 2012

Giving 'Green Light' to Young Drivers

One of my ‘pet peeves’ in Israel is the local driving culture. Admittedly, driving has improved over the last decade or so, especially after major investments in road infrastructure. Yet compared to California, I feel far more anxious on the road here. I wrote about my dissatisfaction with driver behavior before, as in ‘Looking for a Gentler Mr. Wheeler’. And according to my wife, I sound far less subtle when I sit behind the wheel and curse. One day after sending yet another driver to hell, she said to me “if you feel so strongly about the situation why don’t you do something about it?”. Ah, wives and their pragmatism…

I went about searching for something to do about "driving culture". It took just a few searches on Google to hit the mark. I came across an association called “Or Yarok” (אור ירוק) which focuses on improving the driving culture in Israel. And I quote:

The Or Yarok Association for Safer Driving in Israel was founded in 1997 due to recognition of the critical importance of the uncompromising struggle against traffic accidents and the importance of community involvement in the struggle. The declared goal of the association is to minimize the number of casualties in traffic accidents as much as possible and to affect a change in Israel’s driving culture.

Since its foundation, the association has sparked a genuine revolution in public awareness, in the field of road crashes, both in terms of its direct activity and in the encouragement that this activity has given to other organizations involved in this field.”

This sounded exactly like what I was looking for. A few more clicks on their website and I got to the ‘volunteer’ page. There are many potential volunteer activities that Or Yarok offers. Two of them grabbed my attention. The first one has to do with giving lectures to young drivers – at high school or during their military service. The second has to do with sponsoring volunteers to the Israeli traffic police. Let me elaborate on the first activity and leave the second one to another blog post. 

I love to present and enjoy interaction with audiences. So I went ahead and volunteered for the lecture activities, with focus on kids in school and young soldiers. I don’t fully agree with the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, but clearly it is harder to change older drivers who are set in their ways. Therefore the most productive effort is to “educate” new generations of drivers.

After registering on the Or Yarok website, I got an email followed by a phone call. They offered some potential dates for training, and after some back and forth, I signed up to one of the training dates. When I arrived at Or Yarok offices on the designated date, I found there were about 10 of us who showed up for the training. Each of us had a different background and reasons for doing this volunteer work, but we all shared the passion to improve driving culture in Israel. It is nice to know you are not the only lunatic…

I have gone through many presentation training in my career, and the one delivered at Or Yarok was certainly a professional one. Turns out Or Yarok tailors the presentations for each age group, so that it best fits the audience background and needs. After about 4.5hrs I felt pretty comfortable with the materials and was ready to go out there and change the driving scene.

Few weeks later I received an email with a list of potential presentations. There were two slots that targeted high school students (11th graders) in my home town. I signed up immediately for those. As presentation day approached, I started to get a bit nervous. High school students can be vicious (I know, because I used to be one). They can be especially rude towards inexperienced “teachers” who haven’t mastered the art of keeping a class in focus.  But “Alea iacta est” – the die has been cast – as the Romans used to say.

I showed up at the high school 15min before presentation time. I was greeted by a young teacher who helped me set up the laptop and projector and told me he will be next door if I needed him. Soon the students started trickling into the classroom. “Are you the guy who will talk to us about traffic and stuff?” some of them asked. “Yes, I am” I said. “We had an old guy come in last year – he was really funny!” said some of the students. I was happy I wasn’t considered an “old guy” yet, and started frenetically searching in my memory for traffic related jokes –in vain.

There were about two dozen students in the class – teenage boys and girls. To my pleasant surprise, they stayed pretty attentive throughout the discussion. They asked questions, and made comments, and of course did some text messaging while at it. But overall paid attention to what was said.

The highlight of the talk (in my opinion) was a driving dilemma I presented to them: Suppose you are driving on the highway at 100km/hr and you follow 20m behind a truck. Suddenly you spot a large package falling off the truck. What do you do? Do you:
  1.  Slam on the breaks and stop in the middle of the road  
  2.  Swerve to the right, slow down and stop on the shoulder
  3. Swerve to the right and quickly pass the truck
  4. Do nothing

Most of the students voted in favor of #2 – swerve to the right and stop on the shoulders. They thought it’s too dangerous to stop in the middle of the highway, or to try to pass the truck in high speed. They were quite surprised when I told them that the “right answer” was #4: do nothing!

The reason being that given a 0.75 sec average reaction time, your vehicle will travel 21m before you can do anything. This means you have no time to react and you will hit the package that fell on the road in full speed…This sparked a good discussion about the need to keep a safety distance behind the vehicle in front of you. And if those young drivers got this one concept down, then I feel I made an impact.

I admire the work Or Yarok is doing, and I believe that within a generation they will actually transform the driving culture in Israel. The change is ours to make. All it takes is for more people to devote a few hours a month to volunteer and help with this important work.

So what are you waiting for? Go give a ‘green light’ to young drivers...


  1. Enjoyed this very much, Baruch. Good job, I'm glad you volunteered!

  2. This is cool. I love that you quickly found something that matches your abilities and interests and just did it. I hope you will do this more and write about it.

    I love teaching young people, too. No better way to learn!

  3. Two issues raised in front of my eyes like "Red Lights":
    #1: the fact that "Or Yarok" is 15 years old...a whole generation should be eduacated by now. We need more volunteers like you to make an impact, so it won't take another generation or two to make a difference.
    #2: The students were text messaging during the presentation??? Goodness! NO PHONES AT SCHOOL!!! Isn't it that text messaging while driving is one of the major causes for accidents?
    I am so proud of you! Keep up the good work (with the hope it will change the spirit...:-)