Lessons of the  death of  Cyrus Mistry  in the car crash

Cyrus Mistry 1

The sudden realisation in elite circles of the need to wear seat belts for passengers in  rear seats  of cars in the wake of the death of  Mr Cyrus Mistry, former Tata group chief, on September 4 is important. But it misses a vital  point. It shows all the concern for the safety of  car occupants, the rich, while there is not even a bit of concern for a vast majority of the poor. They are  the vast numbers of  victims of road crashes. These are often under the wheels of  motorists  some of whom  are  drunk, speeding.

Much of the media coverage of the Mistry crash is  poor, there is little understanding of the complex subject. Over the years many reports have relied for quotes  on one single gentleman called  Piyush Tiwari who runs an NGO with links to the ruling   authorities.

As an exception the Telegraph of  Kolkata has interviewed  a real expert,U.S. based Rajeev Kelkar, a Ph.D in biomedical engineering  who is widely consulted in  cases  of road crash injuries.

Another point is that like the auto industry and the administration in  the U.S.   the Indian counterpart display the same cavalier attitude to  the safety of the poor victims.

The American auto industry has gone berserk on  promoting speed and we have cared little for the safety of ordinary people, according to Joan Claybrook,former director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Awareness and introduction of  road safety has over the decades come from outsiders, Ralph Nader, the  pioneer, famous for his book Unsafe at any speed and others.  Anahita Pandole, gynaecologist, was allegedly driving too fast when the crash of the Mistry car occurred. Many people do not know that the  practice of scientific investigation of  road crashes  was pioneered by a doctor, Dr William Haddon, it did not come from the  auto industry, which is widely seen as irresponsible, or the government.

Dr. William Haddon, was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He worked for 10 years with the New York State Department of Public Health, gaining a reputation for his research and analysis in the field of highway losses, especially in connection with alcohol-related accidents.

He was the principal author of ”Accident Research: Methods and Approaches,” published in 1964, and was the recipient of many public service awards, including the American Public Health Association’s Bronfman Prize for Public Health Achievement. William Haddon Jr., M.D., is widely regarded as the father of modern injury epidemiology.

He was appointed in 1966 as the first administrator of the newly created National Traffic Safety Agency and the National Highway Safety Agency. The two agencies were consolidated in 1967 into the National Highway Safety Bureau (NHSB); in 1970, it became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

He argued for a more scientifically driven approach to injury control and created conceptual frameworks, such as the Haddon Matrix, for understanding how injuries occur and developing strategies for intervention. His pioneering efforts helped transform the highway safety field from one focused solely on accident prevention to one that examines human, vehicle and environmental factors to identify the range of pre-crash, crash and post-crash interventions for reducing crash losses. Dr. Haddon believed that “the understanding and prevention of disease and injury should be the first strategy of medicine and that treatment, no matter how necessary, is not the logical first line of attack.” Dr. Haddon was one of the first promoters of the airbag as a device for reducing injuries, and he remained its champion throughout the long debate over its effective

Believe it or not, the automobile industry itself was primarily responsible for the rise of the term “accident” to describe crashes toward the beginning of the last century. Back then, car manufacturers were concerned that they and their generally wealthy customers were being blamed for the deaths of pedestrians as a result of collisions between cars and people walking in the streets.

According to Gilreath & Associates, to try to shield themselves from liability, car manufacturers came up with a plan. The National Automobile Chamber of Commerce created an open wire service for newspapers where reporters could get an article about a car crash written if they sent in the details. The articles attempted to blame the collisions on pedestrians rather than drivers, often doing so in part through the repeated use of the word “accident.”

By the 1960s, safety officials realized that referring to crashes in this way was counterproductive. Vox recalls, for example, that then-NHTSA director William Haddon required anyone who used the word “accident” in a meeting to put a dime in a jar. Decades later, in 2013, the New York and San Francisco police departments stopped using the word in police reports.

Prior to the fatal crash of the car of Mr Mistry,another high profile victim last month was Vinayak Mete, an influential leader of the Maratha community and chief of the  committee in charge of the  expensive  project of building a memorial for Shivaji in the sea.

Has was being driven  from his home district of Beed  in Marathwada late in the night to Mumbai  at a wild speed before   the car crashed on way to Mumbai  on the Pune Mumbi expressway.

Two days ago I rode the same  route and realised how bad some of the road is prior to the  expressway and how reckless must have been the driver.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and  author of  book on democratisation of  transport

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