It’s crazy. A man in Bengaluru says he wears seat belts while driving only on major roads, a few metres before he is about to encounter a traffic police check post. “I know where the check posts are,” he says! Don’t be surprised. Three out of four persons in India don’t wear seat belts, or wear sometimes, and just 4% wear seat belts sitting on the rear seats. These are the findings of the pan-India study “Seat belt usage in India, 2017” conducted by market research firm Millward Brown and IMRB (Kantar Group) for Maruti Suzuki recently. Road accidents are a leading cause of deaths. According to the report ‘Road Accidents in India 2016’ by the ministry of road transport & highways (MoRTH), 1.5 lakh people lost their lives in road accidents in 2016. “Though road accidents decreased by 4.1% during 2016, with the year seeing 4,80,652 accidents as against 5,01,423 in 2015, fatalities rose by 3.2%—1,50,785 persons were killed in 2016 as against 1,46,133 in 2015,” the report noted. Of these, people on two-wheelers are the most vulnerable (constituting 34.8% of the total killed in 2016), followed by cars, taxis, vans (17.9%); trucks (11.2%); pedestrians (10.5%); buses (6.6%); auto-rickshaws (4.7%); and other motor vehicles (10.6%).
People travelling in cars, taxis and vans are second-most vulnerable to road accident deaths (17.9% or 26,990 deaths in 2016), and the MoRTH report noted that as many as 5,638 people who died in 2016 were not wearing seat belts! The government aims to bring down road accidents by 50% by 2020—by taking steps in the four key areas of engineering (vehicle, road), education, enforcement and emergency care. Towards that, as far as passenger cars are concerned, beginning October 2017, all entirely new models have to meet advanced safety norms—including crash test certification and pre-installed airbags—even though existing models have time till October 2019 before they are equipped with such features.
While such features are welcome, the most important safety feature ever invented for a car still remains the old faithful seat belt. In a recent interview, Maruti Suzuki’s R&D head CV Raman had noted that “all the airbags in a car are useless and may cause injuries if the occupants are not belted … while advanced safety features help, we need to follow basic safety habits too.” (https://goo.gl/SBY6Gi). According to WHO, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatality among drivers and front seat passengers by 45-50%. Even though the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, makes it mandatory for every occupant of a vehicle to be secured by seat belts, this is rarely enforced in India. Clearly, what we need is behavioural change and effective enforcement.
The Maruti Suzuki study found that seat belt usage rate in India is as low as 25% among passenger vehicle users (driver, co-driver and rear). A shocking finding was that seat belt usage among rear seat occupants was just 4%, i.e. 96% of rear seat occupants don’t use seat belt at all. Among drivers, non-usage was highest in tier 2 cities at 78%, followed by metros at 74% and tier 1 cities at 61%. The report noted that tier 1 cities fared better because of high usage of seat belt in Chandigarh and Jaipur, where enforcement is strong. As far as regions are concerned, South India ranks the lowest in usage of seat belt (only 11% of drivers use seat belt), followed by East (21%), West (22%) and North (58%).
Gender-specific data showed that usage of seat belt among female drivers was just 19% across India, compared to 32% for male drivers. And more young people (18-25 years old) use seat belt compared to older people (46-55 years). An interesting finding was that usage of seat belt was lowest among those driving an SUV (only 23% wear seat belts), followed by hatchback cars (28% wear), sedans (32%) and luxury cars (41% wear seat belts).
Reasons for non-usage
Weak legal enforcement (32%) was the top most reason for non-usage of seat belt. Negative image perceptions (27%) and the belief that seat belts ruin clothes (25%) emerged as other key reasons. Surprisingly, 23% did not consider seat belts as a safety device, leading to non-usage.
Reasons for usage
As many as 77% wear seat belts because of legal enforcement and 64% wear because they consider it as a safety device. Also, encouragement from family and friends to wear seat belts was one of the key reasons for usage.
How to increase usage
RS Kalsi, senior ED, Sales & Marketing, Maruti Suzuki, said that awareness, motivation and stringent law enforcement can together increase seat belt usage rate. “A multipronged approach is required. High impact, nationwide awareness programmes highlighting the importance of seat belt as the most effective car safety device should be conducted. People who regularly wear seat belt should be encouraged.”
Towards that, Maruti Suzuki has launched #PehniKya, a campaign spread over print, TV, radio, digital and supported by on-ground activations. “The objective is to create awareness about seat belt as a safety device,” added Kalsi. He said that the car maker has consciously decided to choose PehniKya, as it is a catchy phrase. “The communication will be simple and address all major reasons for not wearing seat belt as highlighted in our survey.”
India’s second-largest car maker Hyundai already has a safety initiative called #BeTheBetterGuy, which started more than a year ago. “Accidents are largely caused by human error. Only making safer cars is not the solution, we have to inculcate right kind of driving habits—we call it behavioural change,” said Rakesh Srivastava, director, Sales & Marketing, Hyundai India. “Don’t use phones while driving, don’t drink and drive, wear seatbelts, follow lane driving behaviour … #BeTheBetterGuy is about being the better person than others on the road.”
Hyundai has now released a road safety film that marks the second phase of #BeTheBetterGuy campaign, which will be run in select schools, shopping malls and cinema halls. Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) has an altogether different strategy. The Japanese car maker wants to incorporate road safety education in school curriculum. Towards that, it recently organised a consultative workshop in New Delhi, which was part TKM’s Toyota Safety Education Program (TSEP) that seeks to improve road safety by inculcating safe road behaviour among children. “With socio-economic growth leading to increase in motorisation, the issue of road safety warrants immediate attention and action,” said Naveen Soni, vice-president, TKM. “We need a strategic plan that is data-driven and chalked out with a multi-agency approach, and which can positively contribute to arrest incidence of road accidents.” Clearly, even as cars are getting faster and safer, drivers and passengers are not taking advantage of the safety features on offer. Car makers precisely want to change that.