Safely locked... death breaks in


The death of four members of a family, who were trapped in a car that plunged into a rivulet at Puzhayarikandam near Idukki district on Thursday night, has not only brought into focus the dangers involved in driving through heavy rain, but also the challenges posed by mechanical innovations like central locking which, in this case, prevented the passengers from getting out of the car.

According to the police, at least three of the passengers owe their deaths to the central locking system. The accident occurred around 10 pm in a sparsely populated area and it was raining heavily. No one was aware of the mishap. Nor was there anyone around to rescue the trapped passengers. The post-mortem report said that Biju Michael, 41, his wife Bindu, 38, son Anjo, 12, and daughter Alpha, 10, residents of Thodupuzha, Muttom, died of suffocation.

The police said the car hit a culvert, broke its rails and plunged into the rivulet. “Perhaps, the driver (Biju) must have missed the road due to the heavy rains, which might have led to the accident.”

A similar accident took place near Alappuzha last year when Maniraj, 34, who, along with his wife, was reported missing. They went missing on a rainy day on June 3, 2011, and were found dead in their car in the lake near the Thottappally bridge several days later.

In yet another accident, closely resembling these, four youths died when a brand new Innova car caught fire on the Bypass Road in Kochi a couple of years ago. In that case too, the inability to open the central lock was cited as the reason for the tragedy.

But a probe by DC found that car manufactures and automobile engineers have no immediate solution for these types of accidents. “People increasingly buy cars with power windows and central locking as these have been found to be safe in many other aspects, especially while travelling with children,” said Mr R. Bipin, head of the service team with an Audi car dealer in Kochi.

But, he agreed that manufacturers had no solution as yet for such emergencies. “It is well-nigh impossible for passengers to break open windshields from inside. In Audi cars, if the ignition is on, the passengers can roll down the windshield manually. But even this may not help if the car plunges into a deep water body where the pressure against the door is immense,” he said.

Manoj Kumar, a member of the faculty of the automobile engineering department of SCMS Engineering College, said this was indeed a technological challenge. “We need a technological solution, especially in a state like Kerala where water bodies are aplenty. In fact this accident (in Idukki) made me also think about this. I hope we can have a solution if we try,” he said.

“The frequency of these sort of accidents has gone up, though it still remains rare compared to other kinds of accidents on our roads. It’s time we looked for a technical solution. But I don’t think we can legally bring about a ban on central locking as it has many safety advantages like perhaps, escaping a robbery attempt at a traffic signal,” said Ernakulam Regional Transport Officer T.J. Thomas.

It’s impossible to provide provision for an emergency exit in a car unlike in a bus where it’s
mandatory to have emergency exits.

Perhaps, one of the engineering colleges in the state can take this up as a challenge and bring about an innovation in car locking system, experts say.

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