In the wake of the front impact tests conducted by the UK-based Global NCAP revealing less than adequate safety features in the base models of a number of popular cars sold in the country, the key defence mounted by the top three carmakers was that all of their models has a top variant that is equipped with safety features such as airbags, anti-lock braking system (ABS) and rear wipers.
There are two bubbles in this theory, though. Three of the five cars that were tested — the Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, the Tata Nano and the Hyundai i10 — were found to have “inadequate vehicle structures that collapsed to varying degrees”, resulting in high risks of life-threatening injuries to the occupants, according to the study.
The extent of the structural weaknesses in these models were such that fitting airbags would not be effective in reducing the risk of serious injury, NCAP’s detailed findings show. The argument of safety features being there in the top models, therefore, does not hold water, considering that the structure itself needs reinforcement.
The second issue is that of the key safety options not being made available by the manufacturers. While the top models do incorporate most of the safety features that include frontal airbags, ABS and rear wipers, these safety options come bundled with alloy wheels, extra chrome or wood finish, leather seats, high-end stereos and other trim, which jacks up the price of the top variant and thereby limits customer option.
The IIT Delhi’s Transportation Research & Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) did a survey of sale prices of all car models on the road in India in 2013 and found that a car buyer has to spend an extra Rs 1 lakh or more to buy the same model vehicle that incorporates these safety options.
According to Dinesh Mohan, Volvo Chair Professor Emeritus at IIT Delhi, industry estimates suggest that safety features such as the airbag, ABS, and rear windshield wipers can be provided for about Rs 15,000. The NCAP test — the first ever independent one that tested Indian cars — was conducted by the UK-based body in Malaysia on January 31 on the Maruti Alto 800, Tata Nano, Ford Figo, Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Polo.
It revealed that the cars received zero ratings for protection in a frontal impact at a speed of 64 kmph. According to figures by Global NCAP, the combined sales of the five cars account for nearly 20 per cent of all the latest cars sold in the country last year. The tested vehicles were the entry-level versions of the cars manufactured in India and did not have airbags, an important prerequisite globally to clear a safety test. While the carmakers may be partly at fault, their other defence that each of these models that failed in the NCAP tests meet the requirements set under the current set of Indian regulations cannot be debated.
To that extent, experts hold the government’s lax attitude on the issue of beefing up domestic passenger car safety norms, as well as the safety of the pedestrians and cyclists — those killed the most on Indian roads. In fact, the Sundar Committee on Road Safety and Traffic Management had submitted a report to the ministry of road transport and highways way back in February 2007 suggesting the setting up of such an agency through an Act of Parliament called the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board.
The ministry took over three years to send the proposal to Parliament. The Standing Committee of the Parliament sent the Bill back to the Ministry in 2010 for reconsideration and it’s stuck at that stage ever since.