Why can’t we buckle up?

Published: October 14, 2014

Not wearing a seat belt is a cultural norm in Pakistan, one that hardly changes across socioeconomic levels. PHOTO: FILE

Pakistan’s television industry has seen from amazing times – when classics such as Dhoop Kinarey charmed viewers all around the country as well as across the border – to the not-so-amazing times, when aunties gathered around television screens for nothing better than saas-bahu’ soaps.

Fortunately, the growth in television productions has recently been phenomenal, with dozens of serials airing on the ever growing number of television channels in the country. As the entertainment industry expands, its impact on society surpasses the mere purpose of entertaining. It begins to highlight social issues and influences thinking and behaviour among the population. A ton of storytelling on Pakistani television today pinpoints the plaguing issues our people continue to face, dowry being one of them.

However, the realisation of road safety as an issue still remains insignificant. According to WHO,

“Seat belts reduce the risk of a fatal injury by up to 50% for front seat occupants, and up to 75% for rear seat occupants.”

The same report, published in 2013, notes that Pakistan’s seat belt laws are short of being comprehensive, that is, they do not cover both front seat and rear seat occupants. Even for the laws in place, enforcement remains low. We’ve all seen cab drivers pretending to wear seat belts to avoid being ‘caught’ by traffic police in the federal capital by simply putting on a belt with no buckles at the end.

It is a commonly held notion in our country that Pakistanis are forced to learn road safety rules after having travelled to countries such as the United States, Britain and Canada, where the law enforcement on such issues remains strong. Yet, as soon as they exit the airport, after landing in Pakistan, their actions return to breaking traffic signals, over speeding and not letting seat belts infringe upon our ‘independence’. A small segment of our urban population does, however, emphasise on the use of seat belts as a necessary practice of our daily routines and an even greater responsibility rests on their shoulders to spread the message among their family and friends.

So how does the television medium come into play with road safety?

As the scope of our TV productions has moved beyond studios to real homes and offices, a tremendous number of scenes are also shot in cars. Cars are the new living room. Characters cover everything from worries of not being able to convince their parents to agreement of their marriages to receiving urgent phone calls. Yet, I am still waiting to come across one scene where folks in the car are wearing seat belts. One can’t help but notice that shows shot in Pakistan largely follow this trend, whereas serials shot abroad do have actors wearing seat belts as an everyday practice.

Shouldn’t it be the same in Pakistan as well?

The reason I focus my attention on TV serials is because television possesses the ability to break through the socioeconomic divide and is thus responsible to spread awareness and set role models. We have witnessed warnings next to scenes where actors are smoking, yet road safety remains largely ignored. Not wearing a seat belt is a cultural norm in Pakistan, one that hardly changes across socioeconomic levels. I cringe every single time one of our actors is shown driving a car without having fastened their seat belts and all occupants follow suit. Car rides with seat belts on are not minimal; they are practically non-existent on television.

I encourage our television producers, directors and actors to bring this matter to the forefront and ensure the use of seat belts in all Pakistani television shows.  Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) could also be a prominent player in inducing this change. I expect such a move to not only enhance safety for the cast and crew but to trigger a societal response.

Men, women, girls and boys all around the world, for the lack of a better expression, imitate their television, film and music role models for their dressing and behaviour. Boutiques create and market a variety of popular dresses worn by actors and actresses. The same goes for jewellery designs. A similar awareness campaign is reflected in warnings that go hand in hand with cigarette advertisements. The smoking-is-so-cool narrative is followed by its not-so-cool damaging health effects. Seat belts could share a similar narrative. Let’s make wearing one the-new-cool!

Mashal Amjad

Mashal Amjad

The author currently works in economic development and is based in Washington DC. A LUMS grad with an MA in International Affairs, Mashal writes about politics, economics and culture. She tweets @mashal07 (www.twitter.com/mashal07).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Hira

    Is this a coincident or you watched the drama De ijazat jo tu that started today? The very first scene of Farhan Saeed showed him in a car accident and he clearly wasn’t wearing a seatbelt! Recommend

  • Wazim

    Absolutely!! People in Pak think it’s cool to NOT wear seat belts but a campaign needs to be started to make them feel about their so called “Cool” attitude.
    I was also horrified to see Ambulance desperately trying to find a way but was found stuck in traffic for almost 15 minutes, NO ONE thought ambulance had any need to get to destination earlier than them.Recommend

  • Wasif

    Cant agree moreRecommend

  • Saadia Mahmood

    Not only seatbelts but also car seats for todllers! People dont have car seat concept as well. Most of the parents who drop their kids to the daycare, where my son goes, let their toddlers sit in front seat without even seatbelt. One mother brings her 6 month old baby in the front seat on her belly!!!!!Recommend

  • Sara Barcha

    Hi, i like your topic on “SEAT BELTS” because now i have experienced, how it is important for our self as well as our saving. In Pakistan i never follow this rule because no one told me and i haven’t any knowledge about it.but when i came to U.S its really surprising for me.how people conscious about their rules and properly follow it.if some one doesn’t follow the rule then he/she got a punishment and they pay $300. i think its best punishment rule. because due to this punishment fee everyone follow it.Recommend

  • HK

    Spot on ! Driver and road safety is very important and all cultural/media channels should do as much as possible to raise awareness as it not affects your own safety but also the safety of other fellow road users and pedestrians.Recommend