Cyrus Mistry Car Crash: Why Rear Seat Belts Are Critical – ‘Hot Mic’ With Nidhi Razdan

Hi, this is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.

The tragic accident which killed former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry a few days ago has become a wake up call for all of us. Initial police investigations suggest that Mr Mistry and his co-passenger in the back seat, Jehangir Pandole, were not wearing seatbelts, when the Mercedes SUV that they were traveling in hit a divider and crashed on Sunday afternoon. The accident happened in Palghar, about 100 kilometers from Mumbai. Now, both passengers on the front seats have survived though both are critically injured. But experts say that thanks to the fact that they were wearing seatbelts right up there in the front.

Now, as per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing seatbelts when you’re traveling reduces your risk of suffering injuries or death by about half. There are more statistics about this, but I’ll come to that in just a moment. For some reason, however, many of us still do not wear seatbelts, especially when we are sitting in the back of a vehicle. And under the law, we are supposed to. Under rule 138 (3) of the Central Motor Vehicles rules, all persons occupying front-facing rear seats, both should be wearing seatbelts. So it is in the law. Now the Union Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari, has told NDTV that they are going to make it compulsory for cars to have alarms for the rear seat belt now. So that’s going to be made a regular feature and it’s going to be made mandatory and the order is now going to be issued in the next few days to all car manufacturers to ensure that this is done. There will also be ₹1,000 fine that would be imposed for not wearing a seatbelt in the back of your car. Now rear seatbelts are an important safety device.

According to the World Health Organization or the WHO, the use of rear seatbelts actually reduces the probability of being killed in a car crash by 25% and injuries by 75%. So that’s not a small number. In fact, a WHO study also says, shockingly, that only 10% of our school buses have seatbelts for children. So imagine the kind of risk that we are putting our children to. The study also says that road crashes are the leading cause of death amongst children and young adults in India between the ages of five to 29 years. And that creates a huge hole in our demographic dividend. Very simply, passengers who do not wear seatbelts will suddenly be thrown frontwards when a car suddenly stops, and that is what can kill you. ‘Well, what are the airbags doing?’ you might say. But here’s the thing – airbags work typically in tandem with a seatbelt. So on their own, actually, they can’t do much. Automobile expert, Tutu Dhawan has been quoted as saying that “when your car suddenly stops while traveling at a high speed, your body will basically lurch forward with nothing to hold you in place.” All of this is going to happen in a matter of seconds. And the force with which you lurch forward would be so strong that you can even hit the dashboard of the car in front. And it doesn’t have to be at 120 kilometers an hour. This can even happen at 30, 40 kilometers an hour. So don’t think that that’s a safe speed.

Cyrus Mistry’s postmortem shows severe head injuries and multiple fractures in the head, the chest, the neck and the thigh. He was likely killed instantly. Experts point out that many people falsely believe that airbags are enough to save them. They’re not because airbags are essentially designed to complement seatbelts. So on their own, they really cannot do much.

A report in the Indian Express has pointed out how an independent survey released in January of 2019 recorded about 26,896 people having died in India because of the non-use of seat belts during the year 2017. Data recently published by the National Crime Records Bureau, reveals that crash severity on Indian roads climbed to 38.6 in 2021, up from 31.4 in 2016. Crash severity is basically how many deaths happen in every 100 road accidents and at 38.6 India ranks top among the most dangerous countries in the world when it comes to road crashes. It’s a ranking we would really rather not have.

According to the Save Life Foundation, which has analyzed official data in detail, the country witnesses the largest number of road crash deaths, with 42 road crashes occurring every hour, killing a person every four minutes. In the last decade, road crashes have killed about one and a half million people and injured more than 5 million people. Overspeeding contributes to most of road crash deaths in this country – 56% of them. Delhi has recorded the highest number of crash fatalities among Indian cities at 8.76% of a total of 53 cities that were studied, followed by Chennai at almost seven and a half percent. And the maximum number of deaths were of two wheeler users at 44.5%, followed by car users at 15.1%.

According to the SaveLIFE Foundation, the outdated 30-year-old Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 was replaced by the new law in 2019 the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, which came into being nationwide in September of 2019. Now the aim was to make road safety a priority and reduce road crashes in the country. The act has a hike in penalties for traffic violations, electronic monitoring of the same, enhanced penalties for juvenile driving and so on. But it hasn’t really worked because in 2021 alone more than one and a half lakh people were killed in road crash deaths in the country. And the number of road crash fatalities increased by 16.8% from 2020 to 2021. Even three years since this new act was implemented, six states or union territories have not yet implemented the act. And those that have have either reduce the fines or have not implemented all the sections completely.

This essentially shows how poorly we prioritize road safety and the onus is, frankly, on the government and on all of us as citizens. We need to value every human life and until we do that, these unfortunate accidents will keep on happening. Cyrus Mistry’s death should be a wake up call for everyone. Wear a seatbelt and save your life.

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