By Dr S V N Vijayendra
Road traffic deaths or injuries caused by not wearing the seat belts are a major neglected public health challenge, which many are not taking it seriously. Wearing a seat belt prevents and/or reduces the loss of death and disability to a great extent and provides essential protection by avoiding secondary collision with vehicle interiors (steering, glass panes) and not wearing it is a major risk factor even when travelling at 50 kmph speed.
Though it is mandatory to fasten seat belts by all occupants of the car, its use is mostly ignored. Many drivers and persons sitting next to the driver in the front seat reluctantly wear a seat belt or quietly ignoring in spite of knowing the ill effects of not wearing the seat belts. All such people are confident that nothing happens to them even if they do not wear the seat belt. Confirming this tendency, a recent all India survey revealed that more than 90% people neither use rear seat belt nor a child restraint. Mysuru is no exception as many drivers allow their kids to stand on the seat when the vehicle is moving.
There are reports indicating the reduction in the risk of death by 25% and injury by 75% in children and the same may be the case even with adults when seat belts are put on. There are several instances where people were thrown out of the speeding vehicle during the accident. Even airbags cannot save people from death if seat belts are not fastened, as internal organs keep travelling during the crash resulting in puncturing of the heart.
Recent World Health Organisation’s ‘Global Status of Road Safety (2018)’ has clearly indicated road crashes are the leading cause of death among the children of 5-14 years age and in adults from 15-29 years. In a very first and recently conducted study on “Rear Seat Belt Usage and Child Road Safety in India” conducted by Nissan India and Save Life Foundation, two-thirds of the respondents revealed that Indian roads are unsafe for children.
The MORTH data for 2017 indicated that 9408 children died in road accidents, i.e., nearly 26 children per day. WHO has published a manual on ‘Seat belt and child restraint: a road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners’ in 2009 itself. It is estimated that driver fatalities are reduced by 40% by wearing seat-belts by Europeans, where 70-95% of vehicle users wear it without fail. In Argentina, the seat-belt wearing rate was significantly increased from 22% in 2004 to 77% by 2005 through effective enforcement, which resulted in a massive reduction of road accident fatalities.
‘The world report on road traffic injury prevention’ recommended all countries, regardless of their level of income, to make and enforce laws requiring seat belts and child restraints for all motor vehicle occupants, to reduce the fatalities and injuries in road accidents. Wearing seat belt is a must when there is no control over the speed of the vehicle especially when driven by youngsters. To have better road safety, wearing a seat belt and use of child restraint need to be increased through effective enforcement and public awareness programmes as being done by the city’s Traffic Police Department and Traffic Wardens Organisation. (The writer is Traffic Warden and member, City Traffic Advisory Committee, Mysuru)