A public bus in central China’s Zhuzhou City was recently involved in a head-on collision with a car, resulting in the bus overturning. In what could have been a disastrous and fatal road accident, most passengers, barring one, came out with minor injuries. Now one would think that the passengers were just very lucky to have escaped death, and indeed they were…because they were strapped in with seat belts.
Closer home, where do we stand when it comes to following seat belt rules? A 17-city survey by Maruti Suzuki revealed that only 25% (shocking!!) Indians bother to strap the seat belt when they get into the car. With over 3.5 million passenger vehicles sold in the country every year and crores of Indians plying the road every day, this is indeed an alarming state of affairs.
Seat belt is the primary restraint system in a vehicle and can help avoid impact of the occupant with interiors of the vehicle or ejection from the vehicle during impact. During a crash, airbags deploy very rapidly and may cause injuries to abdomen, spleen and abrasions to neck/ face if seat belt is not worn. Wearing a seat belt, correctly, is imperative under all circumstances.
Given its significance, what are some of the ways we can better our seat belt usage?
- Follow correct protocol: Position the lap portion of the belt passes over the hip bone and not directly over the soft abdomen area. Make sure that the shoulder part belt pass around the centre of the shoulder, away from the neck and the anchor is securely locked. To maximize the impact of a seat belt, ensure lap belt rests across your hips and not your stomach. NEVER put the shoulder belt behind your back or under arm.
- Discard faulty seat belts: If you do not want to trust your life with a faulty vehicle, then why take chance with dysfunctional seat belt? Be diligent in periodic inspection to make sure that they are not damaged by wear and tear. Belt guides often accumulate grime, so it’s necessary to clean them to ensure smooth and effortless retraction of the webbing. Buckles, anchorages, retractors must be regularly checked as well.
- Check seat-belt extenders: Choosing the appropriate length of the seat belt extender is important to maximize the impact of buckling up safely. As a rule of thumb, one should opt for the shortest possible extender as most have a fixed length, and when an extension is buckled in, your seat belt will retract, using the full length of the extender.
- Child restraint system: If the shoulder portion of the belt passes over the center of the shoulder of the child rather than near the neck/face, then it is recommended to use adult belt directly. Otherwise suitable child restraint systems (CRS), booster seats must be used for protection. Young children and babies can get severely injured if they are in the path of a deploying airbag, which calls for attention to detail in CRS placement. For example, a rear facing CRS should never be used on a seat which has a frontal airbag near it.
While we still have a long way to go, it’s still not a lost cause. As per World Health Organization estimates, seat belts could have saved 45-50% of front seat occupants in road accidents across the world. Buckle in properly, spread the awareness and let’s do our bit in improving road safety.