Road safety

What global road safety trends show and why some Indians won’t buckle up

Mistry and Jehangir Pandole, the other person who died in Sunday’s crash on State Road 48, were both in the back seat of a Mercedes Benz GLC SUV. It is not yet known whether they were wearing seat belts. However, the driver and the person in the front passenger seat survived.

The top-of-the-line model of the GLC is equipped with seven airbags: driver, passenger, driver’s knee, driver’s side, front passenger’s side and two curtain airbags.

seat belt law

Seat belts are mandatory both front and rear. Section 194(B)(1) of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 states that “Anyone who drives a motor vehicle without wearing a seat belt or carries passengers not wearing a seat belt is liable to a fine of one thousand rupees”.

A video released in the public interest by the Union Department of Road Transport and Motorways shows that wearing a seat belt reduces the impact of an accident by 80%.

In February, the government made it mandatory for car manufacturers to provide three-point seat belts for all forward-facing passengers in a car, including the middle seat in the back row of a car.

How a rear passenger not wearing a seatbelt can be impacted

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), of the 23,824 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2020, 51% were not wearing seat belts, an increase of 4% from 2019. A statistical summary prepared by NHTSA in 2019 estimated that seat belts saved 14,955 lives in 2017 alone and could have saved an additional 2,549 people that year if they had worn seat belts.

In 2021, the overall seat belt usage rate in the United States was 90.4%, according to the NHTSA.

Attitudes towards seat belts

The Ministry of Road Transport video mentioned above was posted on YouTube in April 2017 and had received only 117 views as of Monday.

Rear seat belt compliance is poor in India. For most people, wearing a seat belt is only mandatory for the front seat. It is not uncommon to find people preferring to sit in the back simply to avoid the “inconvenience” of wearing a seatbelt.

There is no specific reason for non-compliance. Three main arguments are generally presented.

Indians don’t care about their safety: It has been argued that for most Indians the safety of a particular car or ride is secondary to cost (or mileage) and creature comforts. Some taxi drivers have their seatbelts fastened but not buckled up themselves and only slip when there are traffic cops around. Passengers on two wheelers often don’t wear helmets or don’t wear helmets or cricket helmets which offer very little protection in the event of a collision.

The problem is that if Indians are believed to be irrational when it comes to security, it is difficult to visualize a lasting solution, although political interventions, technological upgrades and awareness campaigns can help. Moreover, data from elsewhere show that developed countries have also gone through this phase. Until the 1960s, for example, American automakers resisted the idea of ​​increased safety, even as European cars were known for their safety credentials.

Indians don’t want to spend more on safer cars: The Indian Express recently reported that the Centre’s plan to impose six airbags in all cars from October 1 is likely to be postponed due to internal discussions over its impact on the small car market and a setback in industry. Leading the industry’s opposition is Maruti Suzuki India, which makes almost one out of every two cars sold in India. Maruti says additional airbags will drive up prices for entry-level cars and likely lead to further weakening of demand. Hyundai Motor pulled the plug on the Santro, apparently because reconfiguring the car for six airbags would render it unviable.

Long-term trends in high-income countries show that road traffic deaths were increasing before the 1960s, but began to decline soon after and have continued to decline since, even though the number of vehicle owners vehicles increased steadily. On the other hand, road accidents in most low- and middle-income countries are either increasing or stable at a high level.

Research shows that road fatality rates are a function of income growth: when countries are poor, they experience an increase in injuries with increasing income; when countries are rich, they experience a decline in traffic accidents as incomes increase.

Long-term road deaths, 1900 to 2016

India suffers from poor law enforcement: Researchers like Kavi Bhalla from the University of Chicago found that the reversal in the trend of road deaths in Western countries during the 1960s was not due to reaching a certain income threshold , but to significant regulatory and institutional changes that have led to a paradigm shift in road safety thinking.

“In the United States…this period was when the problem (and therefore the potential solutions) shifted from a driver-centric approach to a more balanced approach, later known as the ‘Safe System’ approach. . It included interventions focused on vehicles, road infrastructure and post-crash care, taking a broad view of the environment in which crashes occur. The movement was led by…engineers, doctors, lawyers and politicians,” Bhalla wrote in a co-authored piece.

This led to the creation of the National Highway Safety Bureau (later NHTSA). NHTSA and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had a mandate to regulate vehicle and highway safety standards, and played an important role in promoting the development and application of interventions such as airbags, seat belts, etc.

The result

Blaming irrationality for road deaths is a political dead end. While it is true that there is a broad correlation between income levels and road safety, the most salient and actionable insight is that low- and middle-income countries like India do not have to wait until their level of per capita income improves considerably before achieving improved road safety.

The solution lies in creating an institutional framework with a national mandate and the financial muscle to bring about systemic change, rather than in periodic campaigns by the police against people who drive without seatbelts or helmets. protection.