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Friday, April 16, 2021

Explained: What does the new rule on airbags mean for passengers, carmakers?

The Central government's decision of making passenger airbags mandatory for all vehicles is part of its plan to improve safety norms in the country.

Written by Rounak Bagchi , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: March 11, 2021 8:29:55 am
Airbags explainedFront airbags are designed to inflate in moderate to severe frontal crashes to prevent a person's head and chest from contacting hard structures in the vehicle. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The central government has made front passenger airbags mandatory for all vehicles.

Issuing the order on Friday (March 5), the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways said, “The Ministry has issued a Gazette notification regarding mandatory provision of an airbag for passengers seated on the front seat of a vehicle, next to the driver. This has been mandated as an important safety feature and is also based on suggestions of the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety.”

The Ministry has mandated that “Vehicles manufactured on and after the April 1, 2021, in the case of new models, and August 31, 2021, in the case of existing models, shall be fitted with airbags for the person occupying the front seat, other than the driver.”

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The announcement comes as part of the Centre’s plans to improve safety of passengers in cars.

What are the implications of this decision?

Earlier, on December 29, 2020, the Ministry had said that it proposed to make dual front airbags mandatory for new models from April 1, 2021, and for existing vehicles from June 1, 2021.

The Ministry had put out a draft notification regarding this for public consultation. Airbags have been mandatory on the driver’s side of a vehicle since July 2019.

The latest mandate is for all existing models in the M1 category — passenger motor vehicles having not more than eight seats in addition to the driver’s. It will mean that all new model that are launched in the upcoming financial year will have to mandatorily have two airbags in front from the beginning.

Several vehicles, including the Maruti Suzuki Alto, S-Presso, and Wagon-R; Hyundai Santro; Datsun redi-GO; and Mahindra Bolero, are being sold without a side airbag in the entry-level variant. These models have to be updated to comply with the new norms, although the manufacturers have time until August 31, 2021 to do so.

India accounts for 10% of all road crash victims in the world, as per a recent World Bank report. The second airbag in front will improve safety levels by reducing the intensity of the impact in case of a mishap, and will provide added protection for the passenger sitting next to the driver.

Why are airbags so important?

An airbag pops up as a protective cushion between the passenger and the car’s dashboard during a collision.

In moderate to severe frontal crashes, front airbags are designed to inflate in order to prevent a person’s head and chest from contacting hard structures in the vehicle.

In a country where 415 people die in road accidents every day, an airbag can literally be a lifesaver.

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the United States federal government, has revealed that 44,869 lives have been saved by frontal airbags.

In frontal crashes, front airbags reduce driver fatalities by 29 per cent and fatalities of front-seat passengers by 32 per cent.

NHTSA estimates that a combination of airbags and seat belts bring down risk of death in frontal crashes by 61 per cent, with airbags alone accounting for 34 per cent reduction.

Does the government’s decision mean cars will become costlier now?

The decision of the government definitely comes with a price, one that the customer has to bear.

Prices of the affected variants are expected to go up by Rs 5,000-8,000 as a result of the government’s decision. However, this is a small price to pay for life-saving equipment like the airbag.

The Centre has amended the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989; the new Rules come as a revision to the existing AIS-145 (Automotive Industry Standard) norms that had made it compulsory to fit a driver airbag in cars from July 2019.

What about other safety features?

There are indications that the government is also considering introducing other safety features such as Electronic Stability Control and Autonomous Emergency Braking as standard features in vehicles from 2022-23 onward.

Some of the other safety features in automobiles are:

* Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS): Drivers on highways have to continuously contend with people and animals crossing. Brakes are crucial, and ABS can be the difference between life and death. The technology prevents the wheels from locking under hard braking, and allows the driver to retain control even in a panic-braking scenario. The Centre had made fitment of ABS mandatory for manufacturers from April 2019.

* Speed Alert System: Once the car crosses the speed of 80 km/hr, this system sends out an alert every 60 seconds, and starts beeping continuously at speeds above 120 km/hr. The system is designed to reduce speeding, and cannot be overridden or turned off.

* Reverse Parking Sensors: The sensors are activated when the reverse gear is engaged, and they give out a warning if there are obstructions in the path of the reversing car. The system helps prevent collisions with objects that might not be visible in the car’s mirrors.

* Driver and passenger seat belt reminder: The car will sound an alarm if both the driver and front passenger are not belted up. The idea is to promote the use of seat belts, which are the most important of passive safety aids.

* Manual override for central locking system: Cars with a central locking system will have to have a manual override. In transport vehicles, child locks will not be allowed.

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