Buckle up, please
The seat belt law is finally being implemented in earnest, although
it was in place for some time. Many motorists voluntarily buckled up,
but there were many who did not. Now they too will have to fall in line.
We are around two decades late when it comes to the seat belt law
implementation, but the authorities must be commended for taking a firm
stand this time. We have had a strict helmet law for around two decades,
which has helped immensely to reduce the death rate on our roads.
Putting the helmet on has become second nature to riders, not
necessarily out of the fear of law, but because they know helmets can
and do save lives. In the same way, there is no doubt that seat belts
will help save lives on our congested and sometimes deadly roads.
At first, the law will apply only to cars and dual purpose vehicles
with English number plates, which were issued from 2000. However, seat
belts have been around for much longer - since the early 1970s, though
not all cars had them.
The authorities should suggest to motorists that they should wear
seat belts if their cars are equipped with belts, regardless of the age
of the car. They may not be penalised for not wearing the belt, but it
should be a voluntary process that may save lives in the long run. In
the case of older cars that are not equipped with belts, it may be
possible to retro-fit them too.
We see no reason why the seat belt law cannot be applied at least to
trucks and prime movers having English number plates. Trucks are
involved in a large number of accidents on our roads - the accident in
Wariyapola on Wednesday that killed six people is just one example.
Contrary to the popular opinion that truck drivers are 'safe' because
they sit so high, they can easily be killed in a frontal collision with
an equally big vehicle - another truck or a bus. Seat belts will help
reduce such fatalities. Bus drivers' seats should also be equipped with
seat belts, if they are not so equipped already, though even bus
passengers are required to wear the seat belt in certain countries.
Some motorists believe that the airbags will protect them in an
accident even if they do not wear the belt. But in most cars, the two
systems work in tandem and the airbag may not deploy if the belt has not
been worn. This is why it is called a "Supplemental" Restraint System -
they jointly work to save the driver and passenger(s). Thus it is
important to wear the belt, even if your car is equipped with airbags,
ABS, Brake Assist and other safety measures.
There are also many instances when only the driver wears the belt,
while the front passenger does not. This is not a good habit. If someone
gets into the front passenger's sent but does not buckle up, just ask
them to do so.
There are many other issues that the authorities should look into.
Most Sri Lankans prefer to keep their young children, even infants, in
the front seat. Some of them even keep toddlers in the driving seat
while the father or the mother drives the car.
These are horrendous, dangerous practices. Children should be in the
rear seat(s) at all time, preferably buckled up or in the case of
infants and toddlers, in a separate child seat. This is strictly
observed in many other countries and it is time we followed suit.
Talking of rear seat belts, the seat belt law must be extended to the
rear seat passengers in due course. In a serious accident, especially a
collision from the rear end, rear seat passengers face a great danger. I
have seen only a very few people using rear seat belts in this country,
but it is a common practice elsewhere.
The authorities should some more time for the motoring public to get
used to front seat belts and once it becomes a natural habit, the law
should be extended to those in the rear.
Most motorists have given up using hand held mobile devices while
driving, but there are some who persist. More awareness should be
created on this issue. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a simple message on a
billboard that said it all: "Kill the Call, not Yourself". Yes, that is
the message that should reach those who still use the phone while
driving. A hands-free set does not cost the earth, but a hand-held phone
can cost you your life.
Eating at the wheel is another somewhat dangerous practice. Some
countries do have a ban on eating at the wheel because this too can
distract the driver, even for a second. It is better to eat or refresh
oneself after stopping the car for a while, rather than do it while the
car is on the move.
In fact, if you feel tired and sleepy, it is better not to drive at
all until fully fit.
Today's cars are equipped with many advanced safety features, from
the humble seat belt to expensive radar-based collision avoidance and
night vision systems. Moreover, voice navigation systems can guide you
to your destinations with a minimum of hassle. All these serve a
function and are really useful in today's harsh driving environments. It
is reassuring to have a host of passive and active safety systems at
your disposal, should the unthinkable happen. They just might save your
life and those of your loved ones.
But until vehicles can drive themselves (believe me, they are
coming), the human element will remain the most crucial component of
motoring. In short, someone still has to drive the car.
This is why we need disciplined, courteous, law-abiding drivers who
give prime consideration to safety, theirs' and others'. The safety
systems incorporated in vehicles can only do so much, if human error
It is thus vital to have a good knowledge of all safety systems and
apparatus in your vehicle and make maximum use of those to ensure a
safer journey. But no technological marvel can beat sound judgement,
quick reflexes and road discipline.