The tragic death of a young entrepreneur in a road accident has created ripples in social media about the safety of a luxury car which may be speeding but with satisfactory control over the vehicle in case of an emergency. The debate also touched on the mandatory use of seatbelts in rear seats by the passengers, necessary safety features in the vehicle- designed to move fast, all weather road condition, modern traffic signaling system, etc. A graduate engineer’s forum also added another measure to install a speed data recorder (similar to the black box that records various parameters of an aircraft) in a speedy vehicle.
The news broke on a lazy Sunday afternoon that Cyrus Mistry (54), iconic industrialist and former Tata Sons chairman, died while returning from Udvada (Gujarat) in a Mercedes-Benz SUV. The accident took place at around 2.30 pm as the vehicle hit a divider on Ahmedabad-Mumbai Highway in Palghar area. Dr Anahita Pandole, a well-known gynaecologist, who drove the vehicle couldn't turn it as the highway was narrowing from three-lane to two-lane ahead of Surya river bridge and it hit the divider. She and her husband Darius Pandole, both were in front seats wearing seatbelts, survived with serious injuries.
Mistry and Dr Anahita’s her brother-in-law Jahangir died on the spot. Both were in rear seats and reportedly did not use the seatbelts. The vehicle is understood to run with the speed of 130 kilometer per hour (which is above the permissible limit in India) just before the 4 September 2022 road accident. However, the German car manufacturer authority claimed that the ill-feted vehicle was at around 100 kmph and Dr Anahita used the brake just 5 seconds before the collision. The electronic control module chip (which helps find some technical faults), installed in the car, has already been sent to Germany for necessary analysis.
Union road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari, who has been pursuing for increasing the speed limit for vehicles running on both national highways and expressways (meant for very fast travel), declared that the government will make the (wearing of) seatbelts mandatory for both the front seaters and rear (back) seaters. The automobile companies, which supply vehicles for the Indian roads, are being ordered to put seatbelts in backseats and also an alarming system in all new cars. The current speed limits of private cars vary from expressways (120 kmph) to national highways (100 kmph) to other roads (60 kmph). Gadkari argues for an increase of speed by 20 kmph on various roads across the country.
The developed countries, where the road qualities are properly maintained, normally approve the vehicular speed limit up to 120 kmph only. Those countries also set a standard time for the driver’s rest after a four to five hours journey and maximum nine hours driving in a day. No such rules exist in India where the professional drivers are often compelled to work overtime with no specific time for rest. A significant number of road accidents took place on Indian roads because of the driver’s fatigue. India loses over a million people per year to road mishaps and a few millions have to suffer from the wounds till their last breaths.
Realizing the concern of millions of automobile users in India expressed after Mistry’s death, All Assam Engineer’s Association (AAEA) urged the Mercedes-Benz authority to clarify if the inbuilt safety measures like crash sensors, airbags (both frontal and side), side-curtain bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warning, brake assist, automatic emergency braking, tire-pressure monitor, etc were installed in the affected SUV and all those features functioned properly and on time.
The forum emphasizes on installing more advanced safety features in the vehicles, particularly those that run with 80 kmph (or above) speed. It advocates for a speed data recorder in every highspeed vehicle so that the actual cause of its crash can be identified, and those parameters can be studied and scientifically addressed by the automobile manufacturers in the newer models coming to the market. After all, the life of every passenger should (must) be considered precious all the time.