A strict enforcement of seat belt norms for rear passengers would be more effective than making an alarm go off when people do not belt up, according to officials at car manufacturers.
Their comments came a day after Nitin Gadkari, the Union minister for road transport and highways, announced that seat belt alarms would be made mandatory for passengers in the rear seat of a car.
“We have taken a decision that there will be a provision that the car seat belt alarm should beep when the rear seat rider is not wearing a seat belt.
"We will impose fines if rear seat riders are not wearing seat belts.
"I have cleared the notification and within three days we will issue it,” the minister said, speaking at the ‘India@75 — Past, Present and Future’ conclave organised by Business Standard in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Gadkari's statement came days after a car crash killed former Tata Group chairman, Cyrus Mistry, and London-based Jehangir Pandole, who was global strategy head at KPMG.
Both were seated at the back of the Mercedes they were travelling in and both were not wearing a seat belt.
In line with the regulations prescribed in the Central Motor Vehicle Regulation (CMVR), all cars in India have to have a seat belt alarm for front occupants.
But there is no such requirement for those sitting in the rear.
Only very select luxury car models have a similar alarm for rear passengers.
And the function varies from model to model.
For instance, in a Toyota Lexus or a Mercedes Maybach, the alarm beeps only if the rear seat passengers unfasten the belt — it doesn’t send an alert if the occupant does not fasten the belt.
“You can make an armoured or a tanker kind of vehicle, loading it with all kinds of safety features.
"But what matters eventually is the occupant’s behaviour and his or her awareness of safety,” said an official of a car company.
According to him, while the government’s intention to bring seat belt alarms for rear passengers is noble, it won’t help if the passengers decide to ignore it.
The view is endorsed by officials across auto companies.
“Issuing a challan or a penalty to those not buckled up (at the rear) is a better way than a seat belt alarm,” said one, adding that it’s the fear of getting penalised that makes most people sitting in the front seats of a car wear their seat belts.
“Besides, what will you do with the cars that are already on the road? Hence, we think that enforcing the regulation is a better approach for dealing with the problem,” an official at another car company said.
According to a pan-India survey by Millward Brown and IMRB (Kantar Group) in 2017, seat belt usage rate amongst rear seat occupants of passenger vehicles in the country was found to be just 4 per cent.
In other words, 96 per cent of rear seat passengers did not use the seat belt.
Of the respondents, 69 per cent claimed they had never used a seat belt in the rear seat.
IMRB’s survey concluded that law enforcement is the single biggest influencing factor when it comes to seat belt usage in India.
This, together with awareness and motivation, could increase seat belt usage.
The survey said that a multi-pronged approach should be adopted to enhance seat belt usage, especially in the rear of the car.
There should be high-impact, nationwide awareness programmes highlighting the importance of seat belts as the most effective safety device in a car, passenger vehicle users who regularly wear seat belts should be rewarded and encouraged, and influencers should be roped in to communicate the fact that seat belts save lives.