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Dinesh Mohan, IIT professor & leading road safety expert behind Delhi’s BRT, dies of Covid

Dinesh Mohan was known for his research on road safety and work in areas of advancing motorcycle helmet design.

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New Delhi: Dinesh Mohan, an honorary professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi and one of the world’s leading experts on traffic safety issues, succumbed to Covid-19 Friday. The 75-year-old professor was being treated at St Stephen’s Hospital in New Delhi.

“Dinesh Mohan was under treatment at St Stephen’s Hospital after he tested positive for Covid-19. He passed away this morning due to a cardiac arrest,” V. Ramgopal Rao, director of IIT Delhi, told news agency PTI.

Calling Mohan a “stalwart in areas of road safety and transportation”, Rao added that he had made immense contributions to research in the area.

In a statement released Friday, IIT Delhi said: “It is a huge loss for all the faculty, students and staff at TRIPP, IIT Delhi and all those known to him at the Institute and the Traffic safety community in India and the rest of the World. We all pray the almighty to give his family the strength to overcome this huge loss.”

After the news of his death came to light, several condolence messages began pouring on Twitter.

Historian Irfan Habib remembered the many discussions he had with Mohan on the efficacy of metros and flyovers.

“I remember Prof Dinesh Mohan for many animated discussions with him on the efficacy of metro and flyovers, he had his own strong views against them. A man who took positions on many things which went against popular perception. Not many like him,” he tweeted.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who had served as the environment minister in the UPA government, also paid tribute to the late professor.

“Deeply saddened. Had known him for over 40 years. Passionately devoted to S&T in India including scientific temper which is all but vanishing,” he wrote.


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Research on road safety, supporter of Bus Rapid Transit system

An alumnus of IIT Bombay and University of Michigan, Mohan was known for his research on road safety and work in areas of advancing motorcycle helmet design.

His research significantly helped develop advanced motorcycle helmet design, pedestrian and bicyclist safety and child restraint regulations. The IIT professor had also always pushed for more sustainable modes of public transport in India.

In Delhi, Mohan had rooted for the controversial Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which provided for exclusive carriageways for buses on city roads.

As the Volvo Chair Professor Emeritus of IIT Delhi, he was part of the BRT project in the national capital.

The project was implemented by the Shiela Dikshit-led government in 2008 but was scrapped by the Aam Aadmi Party government in 2016, with the claim that it is likely to lead to massive traffic jams instead of easing them.

Mohan was also not a supporter of metros and light rail systems that were emerging in several Indian cities. He believed that metros were capital-intensive projects that were unable to address the transportation needs of a large proportion of the population. He instead called for strengthening public buses.


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Early career and research efforts

Mohan began his career as a senior bioengineer with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Washington DC, US.

Later in 1979 he moved to India and joined IIT Delhi, where he served as State Bank Chair for Biomechanics and Rehabilitation, the Henry Ford Chair for Traffic Safety Biomechanics and the Volvo Chair for Transportation and Planning and Safety.

He, along with his team, is also responsible for drawing the world’s attention to the importance of safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. It was only because of their work that the term ‘vulnerable road users’ got popularised.

He also conducted some of the earliest studies on the limited role of hard shells in motorcycle helmets, mechanical properties of human soft tissues at very high strain rates, head injury criteria for children, safety of three-wheeled scooter taxi and bringing national attention to burn injuries caused by fireworks during the Diwali festival in India and agricultural injuries due to farm machines.

Mohan has an equally illustrious brother, former RBI governor Rakesh Mohan, who was also an advisor to various central government ministries including industries and finance. Mohan was a member of the committee on National Transport Development Policy, which was headed by his brother.


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