Rear Seat Belts Are Fine but Will They Save Us from Poorly-built Roads?
The tragic, untimely and needless death of Cyrus Mistry, 54, the affable billionaire and scion of the Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry group and his friend, in a ghastly road accident, has led to a surge of awareness and information about the importance of seat belts, especially for those in rear seats. Seat belts undoubtedly save lives and we must fasten them, but let us not lose sight of the fact that they do nothing to prevent avoidable accidents or grievous injuries.
This is a far bigger issue that we are losing sight of, in the barrage of tutorials on seat belts and demands of punitive action for not wearing them. The media, giving us raucous coverage on the accident, would do a far greater service if they looked deeper into what makes Indian roads so dangerous. If the only outcome of the wide coverage and discussions triggered by this horrible tragedy is to mandate higher fines for not fastening rear seat belts, it would all have been in vain. Worse, by losing focus on the bigger picture, we will let the government off the hook, once again. 
India has been building expensive new highways, expressways and super-expressways at breakneck speed over the past two decades. The National Highway Development Programme has rolled out 55,528km of new highways since the year 2000. Over 12,000km of highways are currently at different stages of being upgraded to international standards. The government collects hefty, escalating tolls to build and maintain these roads, but it is not leading to safer or smoother road travel. The numbers speak for themselves. 
Those who travel the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route are already vocal about the serious issue with road design and the number of deaths at the very spot where Cyrus Mistry and the Pundole family met with a disastrous accident. A preliminary investigation by a forensic team has reportedly confirmed the design flaw. The busy highway is also badly maintained, is riddled with potholes, and traffic indiscipline is rampant. The story is repeated on most highways, including official indifference to complaints and protests and reflected in the high number of accidents and fatalities. The national crime records bureau (NCRB) reports that 150,000 people die on Indian roads every year (as of year 2020), of whom nearly 50,000 are on national highways.
The government’s response is a simple formula that is applied to national highways as well as city roads: install speed cameras, impose speed restrictions on cars, ban two-wheelers from certain bridges and collect hefty fines for non-compliance. There is never any effort to examine accidents through the prism of scientific road safety studies in India and across the world which have clearly established the cause of road accidents and fatalities in India. 
Writing for the Transport and Communications Bulletin for Asia and the Pacific Atul Kumar identifies the three major causes for road crashes in India: inadequate safety measures for vulnerable road-users, inadequate enforcement of traffic rules and lack of awareness among road-users, and inadequate engineering measures to upgrade highways. The geometry of the road is the most important element in the road design, since faulty design/engineering can lead to ‘black spots’ or areas of high accidents, he says. This clearly applies to the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway which ended Mr Mistry’s life, as attested by experienced and regular users and even the local police.
Mumbai newspaper Mid-day quotes a very experienced user, Harbans Singh Nanade of the All India Vahan Chalak Malak Mahasangh, who is very specific about the faulty design of that specific stretch where the accident occurred. He is quoted as saying, “The width of the southbound lane on Charoti flyover is 10.50 metres, which is narrowed down to 7-metre on the bridge which is built over Surya River. What kind of road engineering is this? The lane is also serpentine and the person behind the wheel cannot see the L-shaped death trap which gynaecologist (Dr Anahita Pandole) dashed into.” “A new driver often misjudges the black spot and hits the L-shaped death trap,” he adds.
Another user, Bhushan Mhapralkar has said, in a social media post on the faulty design, that the specific “stretch over the Surya River suddenly turns into two narrow bridges with lanes that suddenly narrow down,” with no signage or warning.
Mr Nanade told the paper that he has repeatedly written to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and also filed applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act but has received no response. The local police have also written to NHAI, with no response. But, of course, the government has responded to Mr Mistry’s death. Union transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, in media interviews after Mr Mistry’s demise, has spoken about plans to impose a fine on those who are caught without seat belts fastened, regardless of whether they are in the front seat or rear seat. There will also be alarms if rear seat belts are not fastened, like those for front seat belts. His other solution has been to mandate more airbags per car.
Speaking at the national convention of civil engineers on 6th September, Mr Gadkari made an extraordinary statement. He attributed road accidents to faulty project reports. “Some DPRs (detailed project reports) prepared by companies are worst and are responsible for road accidents in the country,” he said and wanted training programmes for companies preparing DPRs. This stunning admission from a top minister has been blandly reported by the entire media which were simultaneously doing tutorials and scientific discussions on seat belts. There was neither shock nor dismay at the minister’s admission, given that his ministry has cleared tens of thousand kilometres of roads, perhaps with faulty DPRs, design and geometry. Not only does the country pay a price, but, to add insult to injury, we are made to queue up and pay tolls for this.
Don't you think Mr Gadkari ought to have responded to Cyrus Mistry’s death by ordering a complete safety audit of our main national highways? And announced a time-bound programme to correct faulty design, lighting, signage, sudden embankments and badly done road repairs and to ensure clear signage well ahead of the sudden road blocks that are ubiquitous to our highways.
An important reason for car drivers to break the rules and overtake from the left on the highways is the pathetic condition and indiscipline of over-loaded trucks. Barely pulling their weight at about 20kmph (kilometres per hour), these trucks block multiple lanes (even on three-lane expressways) leaving drivers little option but to try and find ways to get ahead. If they did not, there would be a bigger problem with traffic pile-up that would drastically increase travel time. The frequent breakdown of these trucks on badly lit roads is another important reason for accidents on highways.
Why hasn’t Mr Gadkari announced any effort to use technology and traffic cameras to identify such violators and take them off the roads? As the man who built India’s first and most modern, high-speed expressway between Mumbai and Pune, and even wrote a book about it, Mr Gadkari is acutely aware of all the issues and their solutions. He needs to tell us why they are not being implemented. Instead, he is playing to the gallery announcing fines and beepers for rear seat belts.
Mr Gadkari is also silent about city roads, where two-wheelers, with precariously seated children, drive with absolutely no protection (no belt or helmet) or attempt to regulate them. Don’t they deserve government action for their own protection, just as the more affluent people driving well-designed cars on badly constructed or maintained roads?
2 years ago
A slew of measures are required for Indian roads and driving practices .
)1)Complete audit are required for the roads for safety points. meanwhile (2) New rules for lane driving must come, trucks and local buses if on 2 lane or 3 lane must take the slowest lane (i.e on left hand side)(3) Cameras and corresponding penalties are a mustfor rule breakers .(4) these should be professionalised and further audits on these policing through cameras (5) road designing to be careful for safety(4) whwerever roads design are forund to be lagging in safety proper road signs and speed limitations of 90/80/70km/hr.near cities in developed countries are below 50 km /hr or even below 30km/hr. (6)in single roads head light should be on as per developed country practice and speed limit less than 80 km/hr . (7)speed limit breakers should be penalised quickly. (8) 5 point license should be introduced and any driver getting penalty tickets more than 5 times should be banned for license . nowadays with high aadhar card coverage new fake license issue should be difficult for banned lincensers
Darbha Srinivas
2 years ago
overspeeding and rash driving, drunken driving, arrogance are major contributors to accidents. Many accidents occur on smooth and good roads. Attitude matters.
2 years ago
Till the time, almost 6% amount of the road contract which the contractors are forced to spend back to the authorities, if they wish to continue with their business of road construction, improvement in road quality is a mere dream.
Replied to ASHWIN MEHTA comment 2 years ago
6% or 60% ??
2 years ago
Hardly 5% of our lawmakers travel on the highways. And when they travel, they do so under heavy escort. So they rarely experience any hazards that a common man faces and endures frequently.
2 years ago
I agree with most of what is written here. Roads are bad and the saddest part is the total disregard for traffic rules. Secondly, though there has been a massive improvement in our roads, but they are not fit for traveling at high speeds.
2 years ago
I think the road quality will improve only if the officials and executing agencies face punitive action - one possible way is to use technology and make the system so transparent that the funds spent are in the public domain - use a “name and shame” policy for highlighting the flaws in performance - make officials accountable by imposing fines on them for poor quality - ensure that good motorable all weather roads are provided to the tax-paying public
2 years ago
our jerky law makers chose the option wher agencies can extract rent for minor breach , no punishment where roads crack on first monsoons
2 years ago
Faulty road design and dangerous driving above speed limits, besides breaking the law by trying to overtake from the wrong side are two different issues. Please don't mix up issues.
2 years ago
unless implimentation are strictly done then only it can be enforced otherwise if left to car owners they will not even wear seat belt for the driver or front passenger which is also quite common in india
2 years ago
I am sorry . You are mixing the two issues which are separate though related to the Road accidents. In fact with seat belts, the injuries to the passengers will be far less severe, whether they are from a bad road or otherwise. In fact it is a wonder that even most of the Uber vehicles do not have the rear seat passenger seat belts.
Have so far not learnt about a car being fined because it does not have seat belts.
2 years ago
Law-makers are law-breakers in our country. There were instances on record and in public knowledge wherein MLAs/MPs/Ministers, not to talk of lesser mortals, were reported to have flouted the road rules and indulged in road rages and yet went away scot-free merrily. The following two reported instances show how much respect our legislators and other enforcement personnel have for the MV Act's provisions.
In 2019, an influential MLA of the then ruling party went round in his constituency as a pillion rider on a motorbike in the capital city of the state announcing through a loudspeaker no need to wear helmets for anyone riding two-wheelers in his constituency limits as the maximum speed in the city does never exceed by 20kmph! Neither the MLA nor his m/bike driver wore helmets as appeared in the prominent dailies the next day! How the MLA had arrogated to himself the right to relax the helmet rule for two-wheeler riders without first amending the existing law or rule was never answered by the legislator.
A little while before this incident, a minister took out a motorbike rally in a district headquarters town with a hundred of his followers. None of the rallyists including the minister wore helmets nor their bikes had number plates, as prominently published in the dailies! To cap it, the rally went through prominent public places of the town and in full view of the police personnel standing muted! Prolonged RTI correspondence (2nd Appeal before the Aurangabad Bench of SIC) revealed the local police didn't explicitly exempt the rallyists from wearing helmets nor sporting the number plates of their bikes. Yet, none of them was ever punished nor penalized even.
Mr. Julio Ribeiro's entreaties to the government of the day in the above said two cases urging the government to penalize the legislators and make them apologize in public so as to uphold the rule of law fell on deaf ears.
If anything but our legislators have the utmost contempt for the rules of the road and the lives of the common people.
As the esteemed author has rightly put it our politicians would find it easier to blame the victim side where they do not have any liability rather than pulling up their socks to make sense in their planning and working.

2 years ago
Everyone is diverting the attention from the irresponsible, dangerous and pathetic design of the roadway by talking about speeding, not wearing of the seatbelt. If the sudden narrowing of the road with no warning, did not happen, there would have been no accident nor any need to lecture on airbags and speed etc. The locals have clearly talked about multiple accidents happening in this area and no steps were taken to fix it. Also, if this high end car could cruise at whatever speed - may be 120 kmph till there, why would it be difficult for going further unless this road suddenly narrows? This is very normal inside the cities where one could see a big road becoming small before a bridge or vice versa. In most cities, during day time, the traffic is so bad that it will be a miracle if one can cruise at 60kmph. 99% of Indians dont wear rear seat belts either due to lack of it or lack of interest or need. Knee jerk reactions of lot of UNwise people including media and Govt must stop immediately. NITIN Gadkari must order audit of all such stretches in National Highways and fix it with all means instead of saying companies are giving bad DPR. If the DPR is bad, what are the experts in the Dept doing and why approving it? Why the correct changes are not directed to be implemented in the DPR ? Right from top to bottom all in power needs to take responsibility and be penalised SEVERELY for failures.

It is a big deal because it was #CyrusMistry. How many COMMON people have had accidents in such type of failed planning across NHs in India? Do we have data? Do we have guts to make it public and have a discussion on it for improving it?
2 years ago
It is time to shift all majour IT companies from Banglore to somewhere. Gift City Gandhinagar is perheps good alternative in the mean time stop paying all taxes to state and central by companies and individuals and in elections vote for none of the above must get highest votes. We are responsible first to vote them.
Replied to jagdishbhuj48 comment 2 years ago
If Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, etc., got flooded, can Gandhi Nagar be far behind?
2 years ago
Where in the world you find tractors using the High ways or express ways, whereas in India this is the preferred mode not only by farmers but for carrying building material and any other material as they like. This not only hampers the fast moving traffic also a hazard in the night. The authorities must consider blanket ban on such use
2 years ago
The photographs just about sum up the state of situation in India. The road conditions and horrible maintenance, perennial corruption in road repair jobs and finally, allowing scooterists with children and family to travel without any safety considerations. The policeman " Namasteying the family on scooter" just sums it all.
Free Helpline
Legal Credit