LIFE

Buckle up, or else...!

In the West, along with seat-belts, air-bags to cushion impact are the norm.

In the West, along with seat-belts, air-bags to cushion impact are the norm.  

``BUCKLE UP! You can't fix your brain at a body shop,'' is likely to be the latest slogan on the road. The National Transportation Planning and Research Centre is planning a new campaign: promoting the use of seat-belts in cars.

As per a Supreme Court order, from January 1, it has become mandatory for the driver and the person seated in the front seat to wear seat-belts while the vehicle is in motion, points out Mahesh Chand of NATPAC.

``Seat-belts are seldom used by motorists in the State even at present though the advent of small cars has further enhanced the fatality risk of car occupants. Enforcement agencies are yet to wake up to the reality,'' he says.

Simulation studies have shown that when lap and shoulder belts are used correctly, they reduce the risk of fatal injury of front seat passengers by about 45 per cent and the risk of minor or major injury by about 50 per cent. This way, a seat-belt serves a car passenger just as a helmet serves a two-wheeler rider.

Ejection is a major threat in the event of a crash and it is against this that seat-belts provide the greatest protection. Three-fourths of car riders who are thrown out from the car are invariably killed.

It has been calculated that a driver weighing 80 kg, who is travelling in a car at 90 kmph, would be thrown forward with a force of 1,300 kg weight in the event of a crash. This kind of force produces fatal results, whether it is due to body impact with the car interior or ejection, which may be up to a distance of 50 metres.

Dr. Chand points out that in the prevailing conditions, car occupants can be classified as ``highly vulnerable'' road users as their fatality rate in accidents is almost as high as that of two-wheeler riders. ''The body of the car gives the occupants a false sense of protection. This problem becomes all the more serious in the case of small cars.''

In 1998, in Kerala, cars, jeeps and taxis were involved in a total of 6,858 accidents which claimed 491 lives and resulted in injuries to 9,230 persons. This indicates that each such accident involved 1.42 persons compared to 1.11 persons in the case of two-wheelers during the same year.

Stress is also laid on the use of properly designed seat- belts and in the correct manner.

The lower portion of the belt should be flat across the lap and as low as possible on the hip so that the impact is spread across the hip-bones rather than the abdomen.

The shoulder portion should pass over the bony area and down across the torso.

Says Dr. Chand, ''A faulty seat-belt which pleats like a rope can itself cause injuries in a crash. Unfortunately, there are no ISI specifications yet for seat-belts and unscrupulous manufacturers are likely to exploit the situation.''

Some people resist wearing seat-belts due to a phobia of getting trapped in a burning car or getting caught underwater, he says.

''The chances of a car sinking or catching fire are quite rare. With regular use of a seat-belt, one should easily be able to overcome this phobia.''

By M. Harish Govind

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