Thiruvanchoor scraps rear seat belt rule, fears it will lead to harassment
The Motor Vehicles Department’s campaign to raise awareness about the importance of wearing seatbelts while travelling in cars has been cut short before it could take off.
The Department had begun a campaign to enforce the seatbelt rule, not just for front seat passengers but those in the rear seats too, following the death of Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde in a car accident last week. The department registered 209 cases in the district in a week against car drivers and passengers who were not wearing seatbelts.
“Majority of cases were registered in the case of people sitting in the front-facing rear seats without wearing seatbelts. They were fined between Rs.100 and Rs.500 as per the law,” said an official of the Motor Vehicles Department. The department had also instructed the offenders to compulsorily attend its awareness classes on the importance of wearing seatbelts.
The State government’s roll-back of the directive on seatbelts for rear seat passengers has triggered a debate on the legality of the department’s actions. According to practising lawyers, though the law does not expressively provide for any penal provision for not wearing a seat belt while travelling, the law enforcers resort to invoking the ostensible clauses in the Motor Vehicles Rule to impose a fine. Such fines could not be termed illegal, lawyers said.
As many as 928 car passengers were killed in accidents across the State last year, whereas over 6,500 people were critically injured. In Kochi city alone, there were over 820 car accidents in 2013. The police, the Motor Vehicles Department officials, and trauma care experts all agree that many deaths in car accidents could be avoided by wearing a seat belt.
“The nature of the injury varies depending on the way the accident occurs. But there is no doubt that wearing a seat belt minimises the risk of injury. This has been proven across the world with statistics,” said Mohan Mathew, an anaesthesiologist heading the trauma care centre of a city hospital. In many accident cases, the passenger’s body lunges forward on impact and hits the front seat, causing severe trauma. In many other cases, the injury is to the area of the spinal cord near the neck.
Dr. Mathew cited the case of a recent accident here in which the person suffered severe injury to the cervical spine. “Injury to the cervical spine can be gruesome for the person and the family. It could cause paralysis of both hands and legs. If the cervical spine is completely disconnected from the central nervous system, the breathing would stop,” he said. Dr. Mathew said there were other cases in which the person’s head or spine may have escaped injury, but death was caused due to severe abdominal injury.
The Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan himself was quoted in an official release as having stated that seat belts, when worn correctly, saved lives. “Research in the UK has shown that wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent, and risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. For those riding in the rear of vans and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) during a car crash, rear seat belts are 73 percent better at preventing fatalities. Also, children are likely to be buckled 92 percent of the time when adults in the car use seat belts, as opposed to 72 percent of the time when adults are not using them,” he said. He also described as “alarming” the “level of ignorance” regarding the utility of safety belts.