Missing Seatbelts in Uber Cars in India

Through my two month stay in Bangalore, I’ve been using Uber rather extensively. While there’re a boatload of reasons to love Uber, the lack of seatbelts in many cars (empirical estimate: 60% of my rides) is not one of them.

Before I flesh out my gripe though, I must say that Uber has made a world of difference in the quality of my stay here. There’s a lot to like about Bangalore, but the traffic and the roads are not one among them; thanks to Uber, my daily bouts of frustration commuting to work and back have been reduced and my productivity has gone up, ’cause I can now focus on work even during my ride.

Unfortunately, I am rather put off by the fact that many Uber cars in Bangalore do not have seatbelts in rear seats. Typically, I find both seatbelt and seatbelt latch completely missing. At one point, this trend was so prevalent that I wondered if certain models of Tata Indica, the most popular car model in the UberGo category, are simply sold without seat belts right from factory; I couldn’t find any evidence supporting this though. On the contrary, it looks like since 2002, all manufacturers have been legally required to equip their cars with rear seat belts.

Now, I know that those of you who reside in India are likely to dismiss this as a non-issue. There exists a collective apathy towards the need for seatbelts in the general population. Even in cars that are well equipped, when I reach out to buckle my seatbelt, I often catch family and friends shoot me a dismissive look or smirk at my NRI ways. When I present my case, one of the justifications provided is that average speeds on Indian roads are far lower than those observed in more developed countries, hence seatbelts are redundant in India. This line of reasoning is complete nonsense though. In absolute numbers, more people die on Indian roads than elsewhere and India accounts for nearly 10% of all global road fatalities. If you don’t buy the numbers, the next time you get into a car at night, or take a trip to Bangalore airport, take a look at the speedometer – seatbelts can be good company during 100kmph crashes.

Uber isn’t technically in the wrong here; rear seat belts are not legally necessary in India. What’s more, Uber seems to have little incentive to mandate that all of its cars carry seatbelts, since this would probably lead to many drivers dropping off the service – not ideal for growth plans on the supply side of business. That said, if ever there was an opportunity for a growing company to become a thought leader and bring about social change through corporate prescience, this might be it. The most admired companies in India are often those that deliver public good by staying a step ahead of antiquated public infrastructure, policies and incentives; if Uber is in it for the long run, this might be a great opportunity to spur change and build a positive public image.

If this isn’t enough incentive, here’s a thought – imagine the PR disaster that would erupt if an Uber ride in a car without rear seatbelts were to result in the fatality of a rider.

Having been in more accidents than I care for, I feel rather strongly about this issue. If you feel the same way, I urge you to do what you can to amplify these sentiments. Maybe email or tweet at Uber? We might just save a few lives in the process.

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