On car rides, like many Indian families, my husband would drive while my daughter (now 2 ½ years old) would sit restlessly on my lap. Then when the time came for her to go to playschool, we decided to buy a toddler's car seat for her safety since I'd be the one dropping and picking her up.
This made me reflect on the accident involving actor and politician Hema Malini and in which a 2-year-old got killed. While much has been written, said and criticised about the whole unfortunate event, a very important point is being lost amidst the din.
What do we do next? While accidents will happen in this fast-moving world, how can we improve safety? Most civilised nations follow a basic, three-point framework in addressing the issue of public safety:
1. Introducing proper laws, rules and regulations
2. Creating awareness in the general public about the laws,
3. Firm implementation of these laws by the concerned authorities.
The recent accident, to me, highlights the fact that India lacks a rule mandating families to have a child seat in their car for kids. In the last decade or so, more than 1.2 million people in India have died in road accidents. In fact, India's road safety is among the worst in the world, with leading causes of fatalities being driving over the speed limit, driving under the influence and not using helmets and seatbelts. Children are particularly vulnerable to injury, but as data from the US reveals, proper seats and restraints can reduce the risk of injury and death for children by as much as 71% for kids under one year of age and by 54% for toddlers between one and four years. This is a clear indication to me that car seats should be mandatory everywhere, including India. Yet there is no such law, and it remains up to the parents whether to buy one or not.
"In many developed countries, the hospital staff refuse to hand over a baby to parents unless they have this important safety feature in their car."
That brings me to the second point. Even in the absence of a law, are people educated about the necessity for car seats? Even privileged Indians seem unaware of the hazards of having kids on board without proper seating gear. Nor will you ever be accosted by a traffic cop telling you to strap your baby into a proper seat. My girl was born in the biggest hospital of Bangalore and nobody was bothered about how we were taking her in our car. In many developed countries, the hospital staff refuses to hand over a baby to parents unless they have this important safety feature in their car. Back here, few of my friends have car seat for their kids. We all behave as if nothing bad can happen to us when the fact of life is we have no control on it.
How can we bring about awareness? Indian manufacturers should be incentivised to produce safe and affordable car seats for kids. Car dealers, maternity homes, schools and traffic personnel should be empowered to build awareness. If the public can be charged toll taxes without any exception, why can't they be conditioned to follow important safety practices?
But then comes the third point - enforcement. This is tricky because in India rules are made to be flouted. Many people think they can get away with anything by offering bribes to dishonest officials. But can't we see now that the scourge of corruption affects our well-being and safety?
Let us be a mature nation now. I request our government to take lessons from this mishap and please enforce the use of car seats for kids in India and, yes, the other equally important rules. Please take the urgent two steps -- properly educating people about the rules and guiding your officials to be honest guardians of law and order.
A version of this post has been published on the author's blog here