Atanu Dey On India's Development

Rambling on about Seatbelts

To get back to Pune from Mumbai on Saturday, since I had some luggage, I took a cab instead taking a bus or a train as I usually do. Later, on the expressway, I regretted not taking the bus as I feel safer in a bus on Indian roads. As the car entered the highway, I reached for the seatbelt. Yes, the seatbelt was there but the end into which to plug it in was nowhere to be found. It was trade-off time: should I continue to sit the backseat without wearing a seatbelt or move up to the front seat and be belted in. I continued to sit in the back and hoped for the best. The driver, however, promptly took off his seatbelt. I asked him why. He said that they ticket people only in Mumbai for not wearing seatbelts, not on the expressway.

I have a healthy respect for seatbelts. Twice I have narrowly escaped major injury – if not death – because I was wearing a seatbelt. On highway 280 in California many years ago, I walked away unscathed from my car which was totaled when I was rear-ended at around 100 kmph. A few years later, at an exit ramp, once again my seatbelt saved me when a clueless driver rear-ended me. Once again, the car was a total write-off.

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine lost his wife, the mother of his two teenage sons. It was late and he briefly nodded off while driving. His car hit a tree. His wife, in the front seat, was not wearing her seatbelt. She died on the spot. He, and his sons in the back seat, survived with injuries.

India is a dangerous place when it comes to road accidents. I believe that there are ten times as many fatalities per mile driven on Indian roads as compared to the US. I can well understand that. People take chances all the time. Of course, some are constrained to do so for financial reasons. When all that a family has is a two-wheeler, the kid is often perched on top of the gas tank of the motorbike or standing on the footrest of the scooter. It is not unusual to see as many as three kids and two adults on a two-wheeler.

What I don’t understand is when kids are carried in the laps of adults in the front seat of a car. In my opinion, it is not a very wise move because there is very little room for error. If at all possible, I think that infants and toddlers must be in a child-restraint seat in the back seat, and children should be belted in whenever they are a moving car.

In the end it is a matter of habit. Good or bad, habits make it easy to comply. Having gotten into the habit of wearing a seatbelt decades ago, I find it very uncomfortable to sit in a car without one. If you have not acquired that habit, here is a bit of gratuitous advice: get that habit. If you need some convincing, I suggest you read this post on Seatbelts Save Lives by Jim Macdonald which begins with:

Do you know how we can tell the difference between people who were wearing their seatbelts and those who weren’t, at the scene of an automobile accident? The ones who were wearing their seatbelts are standing around saying “This really sucks,” and the ones who weren’t are kinda just lying there.

It is a well-written, witty and informative post. I guarantee that it will not be a waste of your time. It may even save you some grief later on.

  • sarat
  • anuj

    Last week the New Jersey Governor, Jon Corzine suffered critical injuries in a car accident. He was not wearing a seat belt.
    His driver and another companion walked away with minor injuries. Both were both belted in.

  • Pardeshi

    Atanu,
    my two cents here
    - if indian citizens (this includes cab drivers too )can afford a car , they can certainly afford seat belts both in the front and back seats. Even airbags in mass production scale are not that expesive.
    - India needs to emulate europe in so many aspects like real driving tests before issuing licenses,safe driving , the effect of alcohol on your reflexes.This shouldn’t be difficult with the modern audiovisual equipement available today

  • shiva

    Good to hear an economist such as yourself making a strong pitch in favour of seatbelts (mandatory I presume). The crank economics community (to be found in abundance in the US) has come up with some particularly stupid arguments against mandating seatbelts, claiming that a mandate actually increases the incidence of accidents because then people tend to be less careful.

  • http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~soumen/ Soumen Chakrabarti

    Supply and demand again. An Indian life is cheaper than a seat belt.

  • neti

    i wouldn’t worry about anyone (other than people i care about) travelling without seatbelts. Driving without seatbelts is natural selection at its finest. Let the fools eliminate themselves from the genepool.

  • amar

    Hi Atanu,
    You seem to be unfamiliar with the Indian Rules of traffic. Please read them at
    http://www.rajiv.com/india/humor/roadrule.htm
    :)
    bye