The unfortunate and tragic death of a Union Minister last month has prompted some people to accept that it isn’t just about avoiding a fine, perhaps one should wear seatbelts for the reason that they’re there!
But the apathy and lack of interest isn’t restricted to seatbelts. We have cities in India – like Pune for instance – where people revolted against the imposition of the helmet law. And so, now two wheeler riders don’t have to wear one. Isn’t that just plain absurd? Well to me it is, but not to the average Punekar it would seem.
India has the highest number of road deaths. We are number one by a long shot. Nearly 140,000 people die on Indian roads every year, in nearly 5 lakh accidents. That’s the worst road safety record in the world. And these are just the official figures, with some estimates claiming the real numbers to be twice as high. India is currently the world’s 6th largest car market, and is expected to cross Germany to become the 4th largest by 2020. So we better get this right – quickly!
We keep blaming the authorities, and often point to the need for more stringent policing, better laws and stronger implementation of those laws as the solution. But are we that far gone as a society that we can continue to underappreciate the very value of human life? And shouldn’t we care about our own safety – or that of our loved ones?
I was lucky to have been part of the plan to conduct India’s first ever crash test program from Global NCAP. 5 made-in-India cars were crashed, and not a single one passed – quite simply because they were either lacking in structural rigidity or simply didn’t carry airbags as standard. The story was then picked up by the national media and became the flavour of the week. Suddenly television news anchors were crying bloody murder, and newspapers were printing pictures of the mangled remains of the crashed cars.
But, soon enough, that was no longer the headline – and it took the aforementioned minister’s death to get the news media’s attention again. But what about your attention? There were two NCAP test programmes with Indian cars that I was privy to, and I’ve gone hoarse telling people about them. The heartening news is that most of the feedback I’ve received had people saying they were shocked, and didn’t ever realise the dangers of not giving safety the relevance it deserves. It also pointed to the lack of awareness amongst people in general. And on that I do fault ourselves – the media, the automobile industry, and, indeed, the authorities too. People will likely spring into action if they only knew.
Most good folks believe “that can’t, or won’t happen to me.” Until it does. The idea of talking about safety, traffic sense, and good habits is simply to try and instil a culture that precludes the law having to impose the right way. People should want to keep safe. I do believe that change is coming. It will be slow, but at least now the apathy may start to ebb. It is true that the majority of road deaths do not involve cars. Pedestrians, two wheeled and commercial vehicles do dominate the fatality charts.
But if we, as a people, alter how we look at road safety, the cultural change that follows will a have a far wider-reaching impact. And it beats simply passing the buck and the blame! So if you have read this far, I do implore that you make the effort, use that seatbelt, or wear that helmet. Make sure your loved ones do as well. It’s one life to live, so be safe.