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Rear guard action: on car accident-related deaths

Car accident-related deaths can be drastically reduced by use of seat belts

September 06, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 01:14 pm IST

Merely days after the release of the National Crimes Records Bureau report that stated that those killed in road accidents — 1,55,622 in 2021 — had reached the highest level since 2014, industrialist and the former chairman of Tata Sons, Cyrus Mistry, and a fellow passenger lost their lives on Sunday when the car they were travelling in met with an accident near Palghar, Maharashtra. Police sources were quoted as saying that the passengers were not wearing their seat belts. The tragic and avoidable accident should heighten awareness of the need for car safety deployments and their enforcement by road safety authorities. It is well understood today that the use of low-cost restraint systems such as seat belts and airbag equipment have helped reduce car passenger-related fatalities effectively. Studies, quoted in a road safety report prepared by the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Centre, IIT Delhi, in November 2021, estimated that “air-bag deployment reduced mortality by 63%... lap-shoulder-belt use reduced mortality by 72%, and combined air-bag and seatbelt use reduced mortality by more than 80%”. While awareness about and enforcement of seat belt use have relatively increased over time despite stark numbers on non-compliance related deaths (the Road Transport Ministry estimated that 26,896 people had died due to non-use of seat belts in accidents in 2017), the enforcement for belt wearing for rear seat occupants has been almost non-existent. This is a shame as a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, U.S., shows that rear seat occupants were eight times more likely to suffer serious injuries in a mishap if they did not buckle up than if they did. Other aspects such as the proper use of headrests also help in reducing injuries due to whiplash during accidents.

Another worrying trend identified by the IIT Delhi report is that while national highways constitute only 2% of the total length of roads in India, they contribute to 36% of fatalities. While the proximate cause of deaths and injuries to passengers in this particular accident was high speed driving, in line with the NCRB’s findings that 56% of India’s road accidents in 2021 were caused due to overspeeding, it is also true that policing has often resorted to simplistic methods to determine ‘driver’s fault’ in most road accidents. The road safety report points out that the NCRB’s figures were a gross underestimate and the only way to reduce fatalities was to institute evidence-based, India-specific and effective road safety policies. These include looking at composite factors such as poor road design and maintenance of road and traffic infrastructure in fixing responsibility for accidents. One suggestion — the removal of medians on intercity highways and replacement with steel guard rails or wire rope barriers — also merits consideration.

To read this editorial in Hindi, click here.

To read this editorial in Tamil, click here.

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