Cyrus Mistry death: Tragic reminder on rear seat belts

The tragic death of Cyrus Mistry, former chairman of the Tata Group, in a car crash has turned into a wake-up call for passengers in the back seat who almost never strap on their seat belts.

“I resolve to always wear my seat belt even when in the rear seat of the car. And I urge all of you to take that pledge too. We all owe it to our families,” Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra group, said in a tweet as the full horror of the car crash near Palghar in Maharashtra started to sink in.

Police officers said they had been going over the clips sourced from the CCTV cameras that dot the Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway in the lead-up to the accident in which Cyrus and Jahangir Pandole, a former KPMG director, died.

Both were in the back seat of the Mercedes SUV; neither was wearing a seat belt. The car had apparently been speeding. One officer said the car had traveled 20km in 9 minutes before the accident — which effectively means it was traveling at more than 130km an hour.

Front seat belts became mandatory for all cars made in India after March 1994. The rule was extended to the rear seats in 2002.

According to Rule 138 (3) of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules (CMVR), persons “seated in the front seat or the persons occupying front-facing rear seats” must wear seat belts while the vehicle is in motion. Failure to do so can result in a fine of Rs 1,000.

Most police personnel do not bother to slap these penalties on back-seat passengers. As a result, passengers at the back of vehicles rarely use them. Worse: those punctilious about seat belt use in the back seat have to often contend with snickers from fellow passengers for their perceived over-fastidiousness about complying with rules.

The post-mortems on the bodies of Cyrus and Jahangir were completed at the state-run J J Hospital on September 5. Reports said the autopsies had revealed polytrauma or major injuries to vital organs as the cause of death.

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