CHENNAI, India – Some 100 million vehicles now ply India's roads, with economic growth spurring thousands more to go behind the wheel every week.
Sadly, an alarming number of road accidents also puts India atop the list of nations with the worst accident rate worldwide, with an average of 17 lives per hour lost to road accidents in 2011.
"India probably has one of the lowest rates of people belting up," said Sivam Sabesan, part of Technology Planning at Nissan India. "Correspondingly, we also have the highest fraction of fatalities to accident ratio, which I think is something that needs to be looked at."
The Nissan Safety Driving Forum kicked off in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai this year, aiming for more Indian drivers and passengers to belt up.
A rollover and low-speed crash simulator specially built by a team in India and Japan allowed visitors to experience how seat belts worked.
"The whole part of building the simulators was really tough, being the first time here in India," said Prasad Ponnuswamy, a senior engineer in the team.
"But the moment you see the customers absolutely delighted and saying that 'I will wear the seatbelt,' you feel mission accomplished."
The three events attracted 26,000 visitors over six days, and Nissan plans to expand the program to five more cities this year including Kolkata and Bangalore.
"This experience is actually a slow one – the car was rolling slowly. What happens if it rolls faster? That's very dangerous," said one driver after trying the rollover simulator. "Normally when my father tells me to wear my seat belt, I wore it but never understood the significance of it. Now I understand the importance of it."
Nissan hopes the program will contribute to minimizing road fatalities in India and ensure drivers walk away with the right message: "Safety begins with me!"
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