Jaspal Bhatti accident puts spotlight on deaths due to lax seat belt norms


The death of satirist Jaspal Bhatti in a car accident has once again brought to fore the gaping flaw in the motor vehicles safety provisions. Though the law had made it mandatory for motor vehicles to provide seat belts in rear seats, traffic officials say the law is yet to be implemented even in major cities.

Doctors of the Civil Hospital, Jalandhar, who performed Bhatti's autopsy say the impact of injury could have been less had he fastened his rear seat belt. Incidentally all the front seat passengers had survived the accident. According to Dr Sanjay Khanna, medical officer at the hospital, Bhatti suffered a skull fracture in the parietotemporal region, which had formed a huge clot. He had also sustained multiple rib fractures.

Dr M C Misra, chief of AIIMS trauma centre in Delhi, said there have been cases where the rear seat occupants who fastened their seat belts were saved. "But a child seated between them went flying out of the front of the car. Without seat belts in the rear seats, in an accident, the heads of the passengers may collide, leading to grievous injuries," he said.

Section 125 of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, made it mandatory for vehicle makers to install seat belts both in front and front-facing rear seats and Section 138 made it "imperative" for the driver and the persons seated in the front seat and front-facing rear seats to fasten their seat belts when the vehicle is in motion. Till 1994, the rules were restricted to front seat passengers. But in 2002, it was extended to reat seats. While no penalties were prescribed for violations, unless otherwise specified, Rs 100 can charged as penalty for violating any of the stipulated rules.

But road safety experts say the legislation is not being enforced mainly because the awareness levels of regulators are low. Dr Rohit Baluja, president of the Delhi-based Institute of Road Traffic Education and Director of the College of Traffic Management, said though automobile companies have started providing seat belts for all seats, we can see 4-5 people squeezing themselves in a three-seater. "Hardly any traffic cop know about the rule and, despite our training, nobody is booked," he said.

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