FIA head Jean Todt in Mumbai

Feb 08, 2013, 08:09 IST | Asha Mahadevan

Jean Todt, global motorsport body Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) head honcho is in the city to push the FIA's road safety programme

January 2013: A speeding car runs over pedestrians crossing the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road. Toll: Two dead, four injured.

Jean Todt (left) and Nitin Dossa
Jean Todt (left) and Nitin Dossa. Pic/Shadab Khan

>> A biker loses control on the JJ flyover. A 25-year-old man who was riding pillion without a helmet, falls on the road and dies of severe head injuries.
>> A car rams into a road divider on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and hits another car on the opposite side. Toll: Five dead, two injured.
>> A car turns turtle near Morgawane village (180 kms from Mumbai). Toll: Congress MLA Nilesh Parvekar, dead, three injured.

December 2012: A car hits a trailer on Palm Beach Road, Navi Mumbai. Toll: Three dead, one injured
May 2012: A speeding auto hits a stationary bus on Mumbai - Pune Expressway. Toll: 27 dead, 26 injured

With statistics like these, it is not surprising that Jean Todt said India is “unfortunately, one of the worst countries for road safety”. Todt, president of the Paris-based global motorsport body Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), is in the city to stress the importance of road safety.

(l-R) Edil Katrak, President, WIAA and Nitin Dossa, Executive Chairman, WIAA showcase paintings on road safety done by school children while Jean Todt holds up a card citing the golden rules of safe roads created by the FIA in Hindi. Pic/Shadab Khan

The FIA runs a road safety programme and since he became the organisation’s head in 2009, Todt has travelled to more than 55 countries across the world to spread the message of safer roads. On his first trip to Mumbai, he will be speaking to state transport officials of Maharashtra and Gujarat about improving infrastructure - such as potholed roads - so that accidents can be avoided.

At a press conference yesterday in the offices of his host, the Western India Automobile Association (WIAA) in Churchgate, Todt said, “Road safety is essential for me. The United Nations’ (UN) resolution (declaring the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020) is absolutely essential. Every year, 1,50,000 die and millions are injured in road accidents in India. It has an effect on society. We have to work on eradicating this terrible scourge by improving education, law enforcement, infrastructure, the condition of the vehicle. It is upon the government to take it upon themselves as the priority.”

Bike ride
A family of four rides without helmets on a bike meant for two people. Pic/Sameer Markande

He recalled his impressions from his first visit to India, when he went to Delhi for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. “The circuit was fantastic. But when you get out of the circuit, you see the road, the traffic, where there is no law enforcement, no proper infrastructure. So something needs to be done.” He added that it is tough going without support from the authorities.

“We are proud that we have members such as the Federation of Indian Automobile Associations (FIAA) who are committed to road safety. As a global organisation, we are here to support them, but they also need the support of the government. One of my concerns is that governments are more willing to talk about diseases such as malaria or HIV rather than road accidents.

A pothole on a road in Malad. Pic/Nimesh Dave

We want to make sure that it is taken as one of the top priorities of society. That’s why we encourage road safety programmes,” he said. “As much encouragement and lobbying we at the FIA can give, we will do so. We have already supported events that happened earlier this year (the Road Safety Awareness Fortnight was held from January 2, 2013).”

One of the initiatives that the FIA is supporting is the construction of a road safety institute in Indapur in the Pune district. WIAA Executive Chairman Nitin Dossa said, “The WIAA Road Safety Institute will be the first of its kind in India. We are building it on 11.5 acres of land that the government gave us. We plan to recruit local people, train them about driving vehicles and road safety issues for one month and get them employment. Talks are also on with the transport department so we can carry out inspection work for commercial vehicles.”

Incidentally, the FIA hosts some of the world’s fastest cars in the Formula One World Championship. When quizzed on how the body balances its racing side with the road safety programme, Todt said that the two are “complementary”. “When you see the improvements done for safety in motorsport, it is actually fabulous. To move this on to the cars on the roads is absolutely essential. You have cars that are old, or families of four people travelling on a motorbike without good tyres or helmets. That causes an overload on the vehicle.

We need to push technology from racing to such cases. Racing is competitive in a controlled environment. But when a driver takes off the helmet, he has to be an example. Like Michael Schumacher. He shows that he wears his safety belt when he drives a car on the road, his family at the back wears the belt too. There has to be a clear synergy between motorsport and vehicles on the road.”

Very often, accidents occur when racing fans try to drive like their idols on the open roads. “It’s something which has to be avoided. I really feel some circuit facilities have to be used as training centres to learn how to behave better on the roads, always respect the other drivers, other people. This can be done through education. If someone doesn’t respect the roads, then we expect the police to enforce the rules.” He added that even drunk driving, the bane of Mumbaikars, can be combated only when drivers are properly educated and law is strictly enforced.

With his term as the president of the FIA coming to an end this year, what will happen to Todt’s road safety programmes? Will he run for a second term? “I will let you know when I make my decision, but I will always push for road safety,” Todt signs off.

Formula E in India?
In an effort to go green, the FIA is starting a racing championship of electric cars from next year. Rome and Rio de Janeiro are the only two confirmed venues so far while the calendar will have 10 cities. One of those might just be in India. Said Jean Todt, “The category of single seater racing will happen in cities. There is some interest from important cities in India to host such a race. I am very pleased about that. But as I say, electric car is a good car for cities.

That's why the races will be held only in big cities.” Responding to critics who claim the championship won't be interesting because the electric cars won’t be as noisy as Formula One cars, he said, “Each category has its own specificities. It (Formula E cars) won’t make the same kind of noise (as F1 cars), but you will still hear the electric car. We are working on that. It will have a specific noise and when you hear it, you’ll know you are hearing an electric car.”

Of Jean Todt and FIA
The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) is ‘the governing body for world motorsport and the federation of the world’s leading motoring organisations.’ Founded in 1904, the non-profit organisation is based in Paris, France. Its current president is Jean Todt.

Todt is a former rally champion and the man, who along with Michael Schumacher, headed the revival of Scuderia Ferrari’s Formula One fortunes between 1993 and 2007. In October 2009, he won the elections to the presidency of the FIA, succeeding Max Mosley. 

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