Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Hot Seat

Following the tragic accident of Cyrus Mistry recently, the government has brought in regulation to fine rear seat passengers who do not wear seat belts

It will now be mandatory for all car passengers, including those in the back seats, to wear seat belts. Breaking the law will result in fines. The death of former chairman of Tata Sons Cyrus Mistry in a car accident a few days back triggered this move. He was not wearing a seat belt, according to police investigations.

Union minister Nitin Gadkari announced the move on Twitter. In addition, he stated that safety alarms, which typically go off when passengers in the front seats are not buckled up, will now go off for those in the back seats as well. Both small and large cars will be subject to the new regulation, the minister said. There are already fines in place for passengers who are not buckled up in the front seats. 

Cyrus Mistry, his friend Dr. Anahita Pandole, her husband Darius Pandole and his brother-in-law Jehangir Pandole were all travelling back from a Parsi pilgrimage site in Udvada, Gujarat, at the time of the incident. The car was moving too fast when it hit a concrete road divider on Charoti bridge over the Surya river on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway. Mistry and Jehangir passed away instantly, while Anahita and Darius sustained serious injuries.

As part of police investigation into the crash, a group of Mercedes Benz representatives visited Palghar and removed the electronic data chip from the wrecked vehicle. The chip will be sent to “Germany for analysis,” Balasaheb Patil, the superintendent of police for Palghar district reportedly said.

According to Section 194(B)(1) of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, “whoever drives a motor vehicle without wearing a safety belt or carries passengers who are not wearing seat belts shall be punished with a fine of one thousand rupees”. An accident’s impact is reduced by 80% when a seat belt is worn. Automobile manufacturers are also required to provide three-point seat belts for all front-facing passengers in a vehicle, including the middle seat in the rear row.

Airbags are designed to provide protection and work best in conjunction with seat belts. They reduce the likelihood that the upper body or head will collide with the vehicle’s interior during a collision. It is important to understand that while every car in India has front and rear seatbelts, not every vehicle has rear airbags. The centre is working to make it mandatory for all cars to have at least six airbags, which will exclude airbags in front headrests intended for rear passengers.

By 2030, the UN General Assembly hopes to have cut in half the number of traffic-related deaths and injuries worldwide. The Indian plan of action will include alarm-beeping features in all vehicles if a rear-seat passenger is not wearing a seatbelt.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in a statement said that in order to enhance the safety of occupants of the motor vehicle against lateral impact, it has been decided to enhance safety features by amending the Central Motor Vehicles Rules (CMVR), 1989.

“A draft notification has been issued on January 14, 2022, which mandates that vehicles of category M1, manufactured after October 1, 2022, shall be fitted with two side/side torso air bags, one each for the persons occupying front row outboard seating positions, and two side curtain/tube air bags, one each for the persons occupying outboard seating positions,” it had said.

In India, there is a negative attitude towards wearing seat belts in the back seat. People who prefer to sit in the rear simply to avoid the “inconvenience” of wearing a seat belt are not uncommon. It is due to a lack of awareness that policies and rules are developed to ensure basic safety measures that can save lives in the event of an accident.

What happens if a passenger does not wear a seat belt? It entails understanding fundamental science and mathematics, which are typically overlooked. For example, if one is driving at 120 kmph on a highway, the person’s body is doing the same. When an obstacle appears and a car collides with it, the car comes to a stop with a wobble, but not the body, which will be thrown forward so quickly that one would collide with the front row and even the dashboard. This type of momentum can result in serious injuries and, in some cases, fatalities.

It was in August 2016 that a horrific accident in Delhi brought out the dangers of not wearing seat belts by those in the rear seat. An air hostess of Air India was killed on a south Delhi flyover early morning as she was on her way to the airport. Shakambri Zutshi Dhar’s office cab rammed into an SUV which had hit a stationary truck from behind on Rajokri flyover just before 4am. She was thrown off her seat and landed on the cab’s bonnet after smashing through the windshield. She was declared dead after being admitted to a hospital. Worse, she was survived by her seven-year-old son and husband who suffered from blood cancer. While the driver had his seat belt on and was saved, Zutshi, who was in the rear seat without a seat belt, didn’t survive.

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, over 1.55 lakh lives were lost in road crashes across India in 2021—an average of 426 daily or 18 every single hour—which is the highest death figures recorded in any calendar year so far. According to the report “Road accidents in India 2020”, more than 11% of deaths and injuries are caused due to non-usage of seat belts. 

—Abhilash Kumar Singh and India Legal Bureau


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