Govt to mandate warning beepers for rear seats: Gadkari
Nitin Gadkari said that the Centre will hire private third-party expert firms to conduct audits of identified and potential black spots in India's highways and expressways — starting with the Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway where ex-Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry was killed in a car accident on Sunday.
In a bid to promote seat belt use in vehicles, the government is going to make seat belt beepers for rear seats mandatory in vehicles, union minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari said on Tuesday.
The minister also said that the government will hire private third-party expert firms to conduct audits of identified and potential black spots in the country’s highways and expressways — starting with the Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway where former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry was killed in a car accident on Sunday.
“Today, I have signed an order to make seat belt alarm systems mandatory for the rear seats in cars as well. Automakers will have to introduce this feature in every car once a formal notification is out. At present, it is mandatory for all vehicle manufacturers to provide seat belt reminders only for front-seat passengers. I am also working on expanding the scope of cameras installed on our highways to detect and automatically prosecute those not wearing a seat belt inside a car,” Gadkari said during an interaction with reporters at his residence.
Senior transport ministry officials said that a draft notification will soon be published to seek comments from the public and stakeholders after which a final notification will be issued.
Not wearing seat belts, be it in the front seats or rear seats of a car, is a traffic offence and attracts a fine of ₹1,000. “But enforcement of these traffic rules is to be done by the states and rear seat passengers are hardly prosecuted for not wearing seat belts. We will write to states urging them to tighten enforcement. We also hope this accident (Mistry’s) and our policy decision of making rear seat belt alarm mandatory will increase awareness,” Gadkari said.
An initial probe by the police has indicated that Mistry and his associate Jehangir Pandole, who was also killed in the crash, were sitting in the rear and not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.
Gadkari said on Tuesday that the consumers affairs ministry has accepted the ministry of road transport & highways (MoRTH)’s request and banned the sale and manufacturing of seat belt alarm stoppers in the country.
Seat belt alarm stoppers are clips found in markets which, when inserted into the buckle of the seat belt, stop the constant beeping that warns passengers they are not strapped in. The manufacturing and sale of such clips is illegal as per the Central Motor Vehicles Act, but they are still available in markets for as low as ₹100.
Talking about Mistry’s accident in which the car he was travelling in along with four people crashed into a divider near Palghar, Maharashtra, Gadkari said he has ordered a probe and the report on the incident will be submitted to him “2-3 days”.
Gadkari called the Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway, on which the fatal accident occurred, “dangerous” and added that at least 125,000 vehicles use the corridor every day.
“The second action we are taking after this unfortunate incident is that we are now going to conduct such audits for all dangerous stretches on our highways and expressways. So far about 3,500 black spots have been identified and they are being rectified. Going forward, government will hire private expert firms who will audit road stretches and give recommendations to the concerned regional office (RO) and project director (PD) of the highway or expressway. If the suggested changes are not executed then we have decided that action of up to suspension will be taken against the erring official(s),” the minister said.
On the other hand, the government’s proposal to make six airbags mandatory for all cars in India is not going to be implemented from October, as was previously planned, due to operational constraints, senior ministry officials familiar with the matter said.
When asked about the delay in implementing the six airbags rule, Gadkari said, that despite “strong objections” from a section of automakers, the government will go ahead with the decision. “There has been delays because of this. But we will not backtrack on this decision. Automakers export the same cars from India to other countries with six air bags, but for the people in India they give four airbags. This discrimination will not be accepted,” he said.
On January 14, MoRTH had issued a draft notification seeking comments from the public on making six airbags mandatory. 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 a fall of prices.
“Contrary to what some automakers are saying that the cost for six airbags in a car will go up by ₹50,000- ₹60,000, I have now found out that the cost of one airbag is only ₹1,000, so the cost will go up by ₹6,000, which will further eventually decrease due to high demand,” he said.
On February 10, the minister had said three-point seat 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.
On Monday, speaking at a conclave of the International Advertising Association (IAA), Gadkari also blamed faulty road designs, which he said arise from “defective DPRs” (detailed project reports).
“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 in the IAA Summit on Monday.
He added that the transport ministry identified 3,500 black spots on the national highways in the first phase and the survey is now being expanded to cover all expressways and highways.
Experts pointed out that passenger behaviour as well as a lack of enforcement by authorities are key roadblocks to ensuring road safety. Not wearing the rear seat belts 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.
“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 an 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 data from 2021, the majority of people killed in road crashes in India — nearly 99,000 of the 155,622 people killed that year — were in the 18-45 age group, and constituted 63% of all the deaths on India’s roads.
Piyush Tewari, CEO of SaveLife foundation said over 30% of the fatal crashes investigated by them across various highways involved injuries suffered by passengers who were not wearing 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,” he said.