According to the WHO Global Status report on Road Safety 2013, ‘wearing a seat-belt reduces the risk of a fatal injury by 40–50% for drivers and front seat occupants, and between 25–75% for rear seat occupants’ and ‘wearing a standard, good quality motorcycle helmet can reduce the risk of death by 40% and the risk of serious injury by over 70%’. This lends credence to the active public campaign by police, media and social groups to make people wear helmets and seatbelts.
Nonetheless, the overwhelming emphasis on these protective measures is inherently faulty as the focus is not on preventing road accidents but only on being better protected against them. This is equivalent to allowing everyone to carry a gun freely and then making it compulsory by law to wear a Kevlar vest.
In Indian cities, it has been compulsory to wear a helmet and wear seatbelts for quite some time and if people are still not doing so, then they are exercising a rational choice (for eg. I could die by not wearing the helmet but the helmet gets me sweaty, hair gets sticky and spoilt).
However, there could be no moral or rational basis for exposing a second person to undue harm by your own reckless driving. Yet, this is hardly policed. Over speeding, dangerous switching in and out of lanes, driving on the wrong side of the road, parking on flyovers/ bridges, unnecessary driving on high beam in cities, blaring of disturbingly loud horns that wreck every driver’s road composure, wanton crossing of roads by pedestrians in between barriers: these go on rampantly. Are these harder to police? Yes. But impossible? No. What makes it even more important to pull up these violations is that enforcement is sure to have a direct impact by lowering these violations, and consequently, accidents. Sadly, just because it is easier to catch people riding without helmets or without seatbelts and it is so lucrative, almost the entire challan targets of the traffic police are met by these violations of personal protection.
It is not the responsibility of the government to force people to protect their own life but it is very much its responsibility to ensure the road safety of a person who is careful and following the rules.
( Will be writing a more detailed post on actual road accidents and their prevention shortly)