Do you use your seat belt?

Some years ago, I was one of those legions of drivers who couldn’t be bothered to buckle up when I got behind the wheel. How important this is was brought home to me when my brakes failed on the way to work one morning, just when the cars ahead of me braked to a sudden stop. I hit the car ahead of me at about 30 Kmph, wrenched my shoulder as I braced myself, and twisted my knee by practically standing on the brake in the hope that the car would stop. Ever since then, I have religiously buckled up the moment I got behind the wheel, and I also insist that the passenger in the front seat buckle up for safety. However, I still did not bother to buckle up if I was a passenger in the back seat, despite the fact that I often travel as such during business visits. Until last Tuesday…

I was traveling to Delhi for some meetings, one of which I was speaking at, the evening of Tuesday, 19nth June. I was taking the eight PM flight, so I left the office around five so I had time to pack and have a snack before taking the car to the airport. The car that was to take me arrived on time, and I left home at 6.15 PM and headed for the airport. The car was one of the old Honda City models, and the driver was very good. He and I chatted a little bit about the state of the traffic when we had a few hair-raising moments, and he recounted a terrible accident he had seen the previous day in T Nagar. Then we lapsed into silence as he turned on to Mount Road and headed past the Kathipara Junction and the traffic began to gain speed.

The pace picked up in earnest after the signal at the Trident Hilton, but my driver was careful and only went with the flow. As we approached the new Honda showroom past the old airport, we could hear a cacophony of air horns behind us, as some vehicles sought to outdo each other. As we were traveling steadily in line with other traffic, I didn’t give it much thought. As we came up to a point near the Honda showroom, the car in front of us braked hard all of a sudden. It all happened so fast that we don’t even know why he braked. My driver braked equally hard to avoid hitting the car in front. I leaned forward, both hands of the back of the seat in front, as we decelerated sharply, watching to see if we would hit the car in front. That’s when it happened….

Apparently a bus and jeep behind us were rashly racing to overtake each other when the sudden deceleration took place in front. The jeep tried to get between us and the front of the bus, but our car was decelerating too fast and the gap closed. In the meantime, the bus hit the jeep, and the jeep slammed into us. One moment we were slowing to a stop, the next there was a loud bang and it was as if we were shot from the barrel of a gun. Despite being braced against the seat in front, I was flung forward with unbelievable violence and hit the seat with my knees, shins and face so that my nose went numb. Then, as we ploughed into the car in front, I was thrown back on the seat. Having ejected us forward, the jeep continued to come after us, so it rammed into us once again, and I found myself flung forward into the seat in front again, only to bounce back onto the seat.

Then as it lifted one side of the car a bit, I was flung over on my side as I scrabbled to gain some modicum of self-control. The car finally settled back down, and I was able to sit up. My mind was crystal clear as I was being flung back and forth, observing what was happening, but unable to do anything about it. I was literally being thrown about the interior of that car like a rag doll! As it was, it took me a few minutes to get over the pain in my face and legs before I could even try and get out of the smashed car. I eventually staggered out and leaned against the car to find the jeep had ploughed some one and a half feet into the boot of our car on the left hand side, directly behind where I had been sitting. The front of the car was smashed too, with the bonnet crumpled, the radiator damaged with water flowing from it. But, by God’s grace, I was actually able to walk away from this accident with just my right leg wounded and bleeding, a wrenched shoulder, sprained wrist and a numb face. It could have been a lot worse.

The moral of the story? I use the seat belt every time I get in a car, front or back. I beseech you to do the same for your own safety.

4 Comments so far

  1. Ravi (unregistered) on June 22nd, 2007 @ 10:33 pm

    Very useful info. Yes wearing a seat belt is wise. However, I doubt rear seat passengers will comply with this precaution. Somethings will never change. Your incident is scary. Chennai traffic is getting worse and with the population in the city increasing its only going to get more chaotic.

    Unless Helmet and Seat Belt rules are made compulsory, victims of road accidents will continue to be seriously injured.

    Your above story should have been published in the Chennai dailies to make people more aware of the risk they take.

  2. Govar (unregistered) on June 22nd, 2007 @ 11:27 pm

    OMG! I know how it is in the road to airport. People race likee mad and I myself have had hard braking sessions there. Will remember this to buckle up everytime!

  3. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on June 24th, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

    I’m very glad you emerged from such a mess with so little injury.

    The day I decided to wear a seat belt in the front seat was a much more low-key affair.

    I was a passenger in a car, and the driver was just pulling away from the curb when someone walked in front of him. The car can’t have been going much more than walking pace, but I still bruised my head on the windscreen. This was before seat-belt wearing was made compulsory in UK.

    It was only a few years back, however, that I learnt about another danger of not wearing the belt in the back. That of killing the person sitting in front of you. Seriously. Think about it.

    If I was chief minister of the state (never will be; not even an Indian citizen), rather than telling people not to worry about helmets, I’d make them watch films about what happens in an accident. (compulsory road safety trailers at the movies, perhaps?).

    The (simulated, of course) image of a child, torn from it’s mother’s arms and being cut to shreds as it passes through the windscreen, perhaps to die as it hits the road ought to make a few people think and act differently.

    I find my imagination helps me stay safe. I find that most people don’t even think about what might happen. I’m not talking about being some sort of gloom-bag — but an occasional dose of negative thinking can help to keep you, and others, alive!

  4. Swami (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 3:12 am

    It’s really good that some of you had escaped from accidents irrespective of how mild or intensive was the crash. God bless you!

    Also, I clearly believe by increasing the parking fee in public places to unaffordable levels for frequent parking, these bad news can be averted. Only when required people should use their personal vehicles. I beleive a decent public transportation with well maintained vehicles should considerably reduce this issue.

    Anyway poor people will not be affected by this measure. Wealthy people ofcourse will try to get away, but careful planning is required to thwart any fooling around.

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