Union rural development minister Gopinath Munde would not have hit the headlines in such a tragic manner if he had taken the simple precaution of fastening the seatbelt. Unlike in India, it's mandatory in the West for passengers in cars sitting on rear seats also to put on seatbelts.
Munde's death in a freak accident early on Tuesday has once again brought the debate on road safety measures in India to the fore. Lack of concern for road safety measures caused more than 1.4 lakh deaths in 2012. Another 26 lakh people sustained injuries in the same year.
In Munde's case, the impact of the accident was massive. It caused injuries to his spinal chord and also ruptured his liver, leading to internal bleeding, which ultimately led to his death. If he had fastened the seatbelt, it would have protected him from the impact. All cars these days come with rear seatbelts.
According to AIIMS doctors, it was the intensity of the impact that made all the difference. It threw his body bang against the headrest of the front seat. There was no way he could have survived such an impact, they said.
Unfortunately, in India, fastening the seatbelt for rear-seat passengers is not a must as it is in Europe, and the US.
According to rule 138 (3) of the Motor Vehicle Act, it is mandatory for "the driver and the person seated in the front seat or the persons occupying front-facing rear seats to wear seatbelts while the vehicle is in motion but not the passengers who are sitting on the rear seat."
European Commission's road safety division describes failure to wear seatbelt as the second biggest cause of road death, after speeding but ahead of drink driving.
"Not fastening seatbelts is also a big cause of road accident deaths in India. But we don't know exactly how many deaths are caused because of this as no scientific investigations are conducted in India to know what all were the reasons for the accident and cause of fatalities," said Dr Rohit Baluja, president of Institute of Road Traffic Education.
Ironically, India accounts for 12% of total deaths that are caused due to road accidents in the world and even then little has been done to improve road safety measures.
"It is sad that it's only when some VVIP dies, road safety measures come to the fore and that too for a brief period. Unless there is a political will to enforce traffic rules and road safety measures, people will continue to die like this," said Baluja. "It would be a great lesson learnt if this accident shakes up the political class and prime minister Narendra Modi makes it a point to enforce existing traffic rules and introduces scientific investigations into post-road accidents through an institute."
In India, little data is received post accidents. That data cannot be used to improve road safety measures. In all, there are five established parameters here — bad weather, bad road, vehicle condition, driver's licence and drunk driver — as against 66 parameters in the UK.
"Other data such as what was the speed of the vehicle at the time of collision, whose right of way was it, whether proper road signage was there or not, what was the condition of the road, what was the condition of the vehicle, tyres and brake shoes, how was the visibility near the junction, condition of the traffic lights, driver's age, eyesight and mind-set all go into taking better road safety measures to bring down fatalities phenomenally," said Baluja.