Lesson to Learn from The Death of a Celebrity

One fine morning in the autumn of 2012 Indians were informed about the sad demise of the greatest comedian’s of post liberalisation India, Jaspal Bhatti .  ” Bhatti was sitting in the rear seat of the car and received serious head injuries which killed him.”–was the entire summary of the end of the life of a humorist who had an uncanny ability to laugh at himself while exposing serious issues of importance to the common man .  In death too he exposed anomalies in India’s motor safety laws and the lackadaisical attitude of those supposed to maintain it.

For starters, there is a whole lot of confusion about the offence one commits when travelling without seat belts while sitting in the rear seat of the car in India .The law has been updated to make it at par with other more developed nations to make using seat belts in rear seats compulsory. However there is no specific penalty for offenders though one might be fined just a 100 bucks in general for violation of any of the rules under Central Motor Vehicles Rules.

In simulation experiments of road traffic accidents where dummies of passengers are kept in the car it has been proven time and again that the rear seat passengers of a vehicle are at equal or at higher risk to self than the driver of the car. This is so because their unrestrained bodies act as missile / projectile to hit the belted front seat passengers during sudden brakes or impact in case of accident in views of laws of inertia – simple basic physics. (Remember the Newton’s laws of physics in school!!)

Research clearly indicates that:

“Unbelted occupants of RTC (Road Traffic Collision), become a projectile within the vehicle which increases the risk of injury to other belted occupants. This effect will reduce the benefit of seatbelts in prevention of injury in belted patients as they become fixed targets for the projectile unbelted patients. To maximize the benefit of seatbelts, drivers, front seat passengers and back seat passengers should be all belted.”(Abbas AK, Hefny AF, Abu-Zidan FM.World J Emerg Surg. 2011 May 28;6(1):18. ) .The mortality of non-belted occupants  is 70% more when  compared with that of belted occupants. ( Burns A, Kummerer M, Macdonald NC. Seat Belt Wearing in Scotland: A second Study of Compliance. 2010).

Policy makers must utilise this knowledge and enact clear cut laws for compulsory seat belts for rear passengers. Baby seats in cars for children in India is also under area that needs to be looked into. With the focus on rear seat belts after Bhatti’s death the Joint Commissioner, Traffic, of Delhi Police  in Delhi, added  to the confusion by saying that it is not mandatory for passengers on rear seats to fasten seat belts. “Since the speed limit on Delhi highways is 70kmph, wearing rear seat belts was not made mandatory for commuters.” (Source : The Indian Express) .

The statement of the senior official to the media only exposed the need for stricter implementation of laws, creating awareness and the importance of having clear cut safety laws. If the driver applies sudden brakes to a vehicle even at speeds less than 70 kmph, it might be enough to make the rear passenger fly due to inertia and injure not only the passenger but also the co-passengers too . In a population based cohort study conducted by researchers in USA it was shown that “Exposure to unbelted occupants was associated with a 40% increased risk of any injury. Belted at risk occupants were at a 90% increased risk of injury but unbelted occupants were not at increased risk. Risks were similar for non-incapacitating and capacitating injuries. There was a 4.8-fold increased risk of death for exposed belted occupants but no increased risk of death for unbelted occupants.”(MacLennan PA, McGwin G Jr, Metzger J, Moran SG, Rue LW 3rd.Inj Prev. 2004 Dec;10(6):363-7).

One can question the official that if one goes by his corollary then there is no need at all for seat belts to be used even by front seat passengers on road of Delhi. Is that justified? Giving such comments to the media is itself a hurdle in the building up the culture of safety which one aspires to build in India. We all need to collectively develop together before we lose more laughter .

By utilising education and prosecution together it is possible to achieve the desired goal. So the next time you buy a car check for the rear seat belts ? Ensure that you don’ t let the toddler in your family sit in between the adults safely tucked with seat belts sans the belt. Demand for safety laws. And more importantly follow them to the core. It is for your own good.

It is said that laughter is the best gift one can give to another. Let not the death of the man who has made us laugh for more than two decades go in vain. The campaign on rear seat belts brought forth by the Indian Medical Association, Patiala after the death of Bhatti should not turn into a “Flop Show ”  Your safety is in your own hands . You sure  do not want  your life to turn ” Ulta Pulta ” with an accident just because you did not care to  strap your body with a belt when using your car.


This is a Guest Editorial post  authored by Dr Vivek Chhabra

Dr.  Chhabra is an Emergency Physician and Hony Lecturer at  James Paget University Hospital and Norwich Medical School, UEA, UK. He is also the International Co-ordinator for Doctors For You , a not-for-profit humanitarian organization based in India . He was also the Former Senior Specialist for Medical  Preparedness , NDMA, Govt of India.

Pic Courtesy : Wikimedia

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