In the last few days, due to a motor vehicle crash involving high profile individuals, the question of seat belts and its utility in safety for a passenger of a car has become a topic of discussion. It would be wrong on my part to comment on any specific road crash as I don’t have the first-hand information and that is not the intention of writing this. But as a doctor, I have seen many road accident victims in the last 25 years of clinical practice to realise how important a role a seat belt plays in the safety of a motor vehicle passenger.
Medical literature is full of several studies across the world, citing the importance of passenger seat belts and saving lives. In a Spanish study, researchers found that up to 24 per cent of fatalities in a car accident were because people were not wearing a seatbelt. An article published by the National Highway Traffic safety administration clearly says that in 2017, up to 14,955 lives were saved and up to 51 per cent people, who lost lives in a road crash in 2020, were unrestrained. Though coming from a developed country, our Indian roads have certainly improved over the last 20 years as have cars in terms of performance, speed and luxury. So, the fact that a seatbelt saves lives is highly relevant to us as well.
Not just life, but seat belt use by front and rear passengers will restrain them from being ejected from their seat or in a high impact collision, even being thrown out of the car, thus saving them from severe facial, head, spine and thoracic injuries. A study by Kahane in 2015 clearly indicated that one can reduce fatality and critical injury to the tune of 50 per cent by wearing a seat belt.
In my clinical practice, I have seen several trauma patients who have been unfortunate victims of road accidents, and have suffered severe injury in a crash due to being unrestrained. Facial, spinal and head injuries are grievous and can be fatal. Though a whiplash injury to the spine may be difficult to prevent, certainly the severity of it can be reduced in patients who wear a seat belt.
The most important aspect is that car manufacturers factor the cost of seat belts for every seat in a car and accordingly plug them into all seats.
(Dr Pandit currently practises at Fortis Hospital. He is an esteemed member of the Maharashtra Government’s task force on COVID-19)