Wearing seat belt could have saved rural development minister Gopinath Munde who died in a road accident, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday said and announced a major campaign to spread awareness on observing safety measures while driving.
"Wearing seat belt could have saved Munde. I lost my friend to a misconception. Most people think that the back-seat belts serve only a decorative purpose. In fact wearing them is as necessary as wearing front seat belts. They can save lives in the event of impacts," said Vardhan before leaving for Beed, Maharashtra to attend the funeral of the deceased minister.
Munde died of multiple internal injuries suffered in a road accident in Central Delhi early on Tuesday morning.
Vardhan informed that the Union health ministry would soon take the initiative to expose the people to safety protocols while driving.
A multi-media campaign in collaboration with NGOs working on safety is being considered, the health minister informed.
"The focus would be the child victims of accidents whether direct or as those left behind by their parents," Vardhan said.
Children also tend to worship the wrong role models. Instead of deifying those who drive or bike rashly, they should be exposed to the right way of life, he added.
Vardhan said that Munde died within seconds after his car was allegedly rammed from the side by a motorist who jumped red lights.
"Let us regard the Gopinath Munde tragedy as the turning point. The minister's tragic and untimely death should be a wake up call to all vehicle owners," Vardhan stressed.
The damage to the minister's car was not great, but the force of the throw-forward within the confined space of the car damaged the atlanto axial joint in his neck, and severely injured the spinal cord.
The blood vessels carrying blood supply to the brain stem (which is the seat of respiratory and cardiac centre) got disrupted and this became a cause for immediate cardiac and respiratory arrest. Besides, the liver was ruptured which caused profuse loss of blood, informed Vardhan.
"I feel numbed by the realisation that the nation has lost such a valuable mass leader and able minister with a proven track record in Maharashtra.
"I now realise the trauma of countless others whose near ones died in car crashes only because they had overlooked the importance of the seat belt," he stated.
Vardhan further gave instances of some of the well known accidents in the past due to this fatal negligence.
One such accident, he said, was that of Princess Diana of Britain in August 1997 when her speeding car crashed against a pillar of an underground pass in Paris.
Later it was confirmed that out of the four inmates of the ill-fated car, the lone survivor, bodyguard Trevor Rees Jones, owed his escape to the fact that he wore a seat belt whereas the others -Princess Diana, her finance Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul - had all neglected wearing it, he stated.
Closer home in 2007, former Delhi chief minister, Sahib Singh Verma, who was also a cabinet minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government died in a road accident after a collision with a truck. He too could have lived had he been wearing a seat belt, Vardhan stated.
"It is a fallacy that Mundeji could have been saved because he had been found sitting inside the car and not thrown out. Actually the damage to the human body is often greater when the victim is not ejected from the vehicle," Vardhan said.
Vardhan further said that seat belts when worn correctly save lives.
"Research in the UK has shown that wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45%, and risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%," he said.
Stating that the ignorance level about the importance of safety belts is alarming, Vardhan said, "Many car owners cover the back seats of their cars with attractive cloth or other material to give comfort. In the process the seat belts get concealed. This fallacy is doubtless causing a lot of accident deaths."
There should also be a degree of coercion, Vardhan felt.
"I would like to seek the cooperation of the associations of petroleum dealers all over the country to utilise the pumps as points of interface with car and bike users. At any rate a new law is necessary along the lines of European Union countries to make non-seat belt and helmet use punishable," Vardhan said.
He also pointed out that apart from ignoring seat belts, the new generation of drivers and bikers speak on mobile phones and even text while on the wheel.
This is so rampant that anybody would be entitled to think that the population lacks basic education on safety, Vardhan said.
The minister recalled from history that by 1955, most developed countries had announced compulsory car seat belts.
Their governments made rules to standardise the manufacturing of seat belts. In contrast, India made seat belts compulsory only after the passing of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1989.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children over the age of 10 should wear a seat belt and younger children should be in a child restraint.
The Health Minister pointed out a report of UK's Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents that stated that the car manufacturer Volvo's patented three-point belt design had saved 1 million lives worldwide.
He said it was a matter of concern that young people in India, like their counterparts all over the world, are now-a-days manifesting disinterest towards seat belts and helmets (while riding motor bikes).
Research findings hold that the greatest reluctance is shown by women drivers and motorcyclists, especially when riding pillion, he pointed out.
For this the number of female deaths has shown an increase in recent times disproportionate to their active role in urban traffic, Vardhan noted.