Cyrus Mistry car crash: Govt to ban seat belt beep alarm stoppers in India

A day after former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry and his associate died in a road accident near Mumbai, Union minister of road transport and highways (MoRTH) Nitin Gadkari on Monday said that the Centre has decided to ban all kinds of seat belt beep alarm stoppers in the country.

The initial probe revealed that Sunday’s car crash became fatal for Mistry and his associate, who were in the rear seat of a luxury SUV, as they were not wearing seat belts and the car was having no front-facing air bags for the rear passengers.

“We will not tolerate any compromise on any international standards on road safety and this covers all aspects, road as well as vehicles. I have issued the order to ban the manufacturing and sale of seat belt stopper clips,” Gadkari said at the International Advertising Association Summit on Monday evening.

“We are formulating orders for the same and the process is on. The order to ban all kinds of such seat belt clips will be issued soon,” said a senior transport ministry official.

Seat belt alarm stoppers are clips, found in physical as well as online markets, which when inserted into the buckle of the seat belt, stops the constant beeping to remind passengers and the driver to wear their seat belts.

People familiar with the matter said that Mistry’s car crash, which once again brought out the discussions on road safety, ranging from automobile safety and road engineering, has compelled the transport ministry to take coercive action in four directions.

It includes banning seat belt beep alarm stoppers, making six air bags in cars and three-point seat belts for those sitting in the middle rear seat mandatory for all auto manufacturers, ensuring design proposals for new roads are more stringently reviewed and lapses in road engineering which comprise of safety attract hefty penalties to be paid by the concessionaire and launching intensive campaign to promote the habit of wearing seat belts in cars, including those in the rear seats.

“I am also working on expanding the scope of cameras installed in our highways to detect and automatically prosecute those not wearing a seat belt inside a car. Also, often we have seen that the detailed project reports (DPRs) of roads are defective. They have road engineering problems. We will be taking strict action against erring concessionaires and the process has already begun,” Gadkari said.

He added that the transport ministry identified 3,500 black spots on its highways in the first phase and the survey is now being expanded which will increase its count further.

As for Mistry’s car crash case, the ministry has sought detailed investigation reports from the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), Maharashtra government and the state’s police. Gadkari called the Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway, on which the fatal accident happened, “dangerous” and added that at least 125,000 vehicles use the corridor every day.

The transport ministry on January 14 issued a draft notification seeking comments from the public on making six airbags mandatory that will be implemented from October 1. However, a formal notification making it a rule for auto manufacturers has not been issued yet. Allaying fears of a potential increase in the cost of cars once these safety features are implemented, Gadkari said the increased demand for airbags due to the new rule will rather result in its prices to fall.

On February 10, the minister said that three-point belts will be mandatory for all front facing passengers in vehicles. At present, only the front and rear window seats have three-point seat belts, also known as Y-shaped belts. The middle rear seats in most cars have a belt similar to aircraft seat belts that go over the lap.

Experts said that a lot has to be blamed on passenger behaviour as well as lack of enforcement by authorities as almost 90% of Indian car passengers risk their safety by not using rear seat belts at all. Not wearing the rear seatbelts in vehicles has been a traffic offence under the Central Motor Vehicle Rules for over three decades now, but the spotlight on the importance of rear seat belts emerged in India after Union rural development minister Gopinath Munde died in a car accident in 2014. Way before that, in August 1997, Princess Diana and her partner Dodi al-Fayed were killed in a high-speed car crash in Paris, in the rear seat of a luxury car. The bodyguard in the front passenger seat survived.

“Apart from road engineering, we are also concerned about vehicle safety. In Mistry’s case too, despite being an expensive SUV, it failed to save the passengers in the vehicle. Several measures towards improving road safety including improvements in roads from engineering perspective, road safety audits in all stages of road construction, beginning right from the planning stage, besides identification and remedy of black spots which account for almost 90% of road fatalities in India will help reduce fatal road accidents,” said Satish Parakh, president, International Road Federation (IRF) India chapter.

As per NCRB 2021 data, the majority people killed in road crashes in India, nearly 99,000 of the 1,55,622 people who have been killed in 2021, come from the 18-45 age group, and constitute 63% of all the deaths on our roads.

Piyush Tewari, CEO of SaveLife foundation said over 30% of the fatal crashes investigated by SaveLIFE Foundation across various highways involved injuries suffered by passengers due to non-wearing of rear seat belts. “About 60.4% of all road accident deaths in 2021 have occurred on national highways, state highways and expressways, which are high-speed roads and over-speeding has been linked to nearly 60% of all deaths in the country. It is imperative that we mount a significant exercise to reduce speeding on our highways and expressways by ensuring effective and sustained enforcement on these roads,” he added.