Vehicle safety: To save or not to save?

Vehicle safety: To save or not to save?

In a country where around 150,000 lives are lost every year due to road accidents, road safety should have been a primary focus area for all mobility stakeholders a long time back – safety in road design and construction, in the enforcement of rules, in educating all stakeholders and, in emergency services on the roads.

Domain experts and activists have termed this the “4E” principle – engineering, enforcement, education and, emergency services. Interestingly, vehicle safety is not considered as one of the key factors responsible for avoidable road accidents.

4E Principle:

  • Engineering
  • Enforcement
  • Education
  • Emergency services

Yet, some recent developments over the last 2 weeks in the area of vehicle safety have spurred me on to share some thoughts here. At the recently concluded IPL, Tata Motors went to town promoting Altroz as India’s safest hatchback having scored full 5 stars in the Global NCAP Adult Safety crash tests. So did Mahindra with the XUV 300.

Millions of viewers were exposed to intense advertising about a vehicle benefit that has always remained in the shadows. Then the full report of the results of testing 24 different 4-wheelers sold in India was released showing that few high-volume vehicles like the Maruti Suzuki S-Presso, Alto, Celerio and Mahinda Scorpio had scored zero.

Even newly launched vehicles like the Kia Seltos and the Hyundai i10 Nios had scored 3 stars and 2 stars respectively. Tata Motors then released memes on the same all over social media taking pot-shots at Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai. This has become a “trending” topic on social media and a substantial amount of online and on-ground discussions are happening on “is your vehicle safe?”

I wanted to pick the brains of a few domain experts before I arrived at any conclusions and expressed my opinion here. Having spent a few years in the industry I was certainly aware of the safety regulations in the country and the advancements made by the Indian automobile industry over the last 2 decades.

Tata Altroz GNCAP car safety vehicle safety

What really does Global NCAP do?

It is a private organisation set up in 2011 in the UK with the singular objective of pushing a common New Car Assessment Programme for vehicular safety across all markets. Using some of the latest testing facilities it has worked out its own set of standards and parameters. Automakers have to pay to get their vehicles assessed and can choose the vehicle and variant for the same. Alongside, it picks up some large selling vehicles, in their entry-level variant for testing from the market.

So, in the latest test report, the variant used for Altroz can be of the highest level if paid for by Tata Motors while that of the S-Presso be the entry-level if not paid for by Maruti Suzuki. A bit like apples and oranges but then GNCAP stick to their logic that even the entry-level variant in every car should have the minimum active and passive safety systems incorporated as standard.

Vehicle safety YT

Active or passive safety systems – which are better?

This is a long-standing debate in the industry and consumer forums across the world. simply put, active systems are ones that avoid accidents while passive systems are those that get activated in the event of an accident. So, traction control and heads-up displays are active systems while airbags and seat belts are passive ones.

The verdict is divided on which types are more important in India. One group believes that Indians need to drive better and safer hence all possible active systems that ensure better control and collision-avoidance should be invested in. The other group says that being pragmatic about the way we drive on the roads, coupled with road design and enforcement of rules, passive systems are what will actually save lives.

Active safety systemsPassive safety systems
Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)Seatbelts
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)Airbags
Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)Crumple zones
Lane Departure Warning (LDW)Occupant Sensing System (OSS)
Night Vision System (NVS)Whiplash Protection (WLP)
Blind Spot Detection (BSD)Child Safety Systems (CSS)
Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)Pedestrian Safety Systems (PSS)
Road Sign Recognition (RSR)Head-Up Display (HUD)

In my opinion, while working on active systems is ideal and the long-term commitment to the larger safety mission, passive systems are crucial till the time the 4E is implemented across the country. As average driving speeds are going up and more people are on the roads, the seat belt and airbag will be as important as stability control and ABS. That is the most pragmatic way of addressing this issue in our country when there are different types of vehicles using the same tarmac space at the same point of time.

What makes a vehicle unsafe on the road?

The older it is the more unsafe. Plain common sense. If there is a 12-year-old Swift next to a brand new one on the same road, moving at the same speed, it does not take much to identify the one at greater risk, both in avoiding a collision as well as surviving one. Add the trucks, buses, two-wheelers, micro commercial vehicles and 3-wheeler auto-rickshaws vying for space and the urge to move ahead and you get the full picture of any expressway in any part of our country.

The high population of old vehicles on our roads increases the risk levels of unavoidable accidents and deaths till the time we have the policy to scrap vehicles in place. This is yet another reason why the much-wanted scrappage policy is required at the earliest, not only to reduce vehicular emission levels but also ensure a minimum safety standard of any vehicle on the road.

Tata Tiago Tigor GNCAP car safety vehicle safety

What does India have as a safety standard?

We have our own Automotive Industry Standards [AIS] as part of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. There is a Central Motor Vehicles Rules [CMVR] and Motor Vehicles Act that governs all rules and regulations for vehicles in our country. The CMVR-Technical Standing Committee is the body that recommends safety standards and a blueprint to the Ministry. Each standard has an AIS number like AIS 098 is for ‘Offset Frontal Crash’, AIS 099 is for ‘Side Mobile Deformable Offset’ and AIS 100 is for ‘Pedestrian Safety’.

By the way, the Indian two-wheeler is a gold standard on safety and a true role model for the four-wheeler and commercial vehicle makers.

One of the key criticisms of the AIS is that not much focus is given to vehicle occupant safety. Which is why in 2014 is was felt that Indian should have its own NCAP. It took us another 3 years to give it a name – Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme. It is yet to take shape.

BNVSAP Logo vehicle safety

Where do we go to from here?

Forward. Only forward. The BNVSAP will surely come into force soon enough. That will institutionalise vehicle safety as a single measure, applicable to all. And the debates on GNCAP being relevant or not will cease. Hopefully, the policymakers also see the merit in announcing a scrappage scheme that takes away the unsafe vehicles from the roads.

The biggest gainer from all this is the consumer. Given the current debate emanating from all the advertising, the consumer is much more aware of features like ABS, traction control, heads-up display, airbags and collision-avoidance. Advanced Driver Assist Systems [ADAS] is a hot topic both for the engineer as well as the salesperson.

To save or not to save…is that a question at all?!

Also Read: Car safety: Top safest Made-in-India cars in 2020

(Avik Chattopadhyay is co-creator of Expereal India. Also, he is former head of marketing, product planning and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres and Groupe PSA as well.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)

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