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Friday , 24 May 2024

Are India’s popular small cars unsafe?

India is now the sixth largest in the world for the production and sale of passenger cars. India could become the world?s third largest market by 2020. However, unlike most other major car producing nations, India does not yet require its vehicles to meet the United Nation?s minimum crash test standards and does not have a New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) that can provide consumers with independent reports on vehicles crash safety. This contrasts with the recommendations of the Global Plan of the UN Decade for Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 which encourages all UN Member States to apply the basic crash test standards. At the 2014 Emerging Market Automobile Safety Conference ? put together by Institute of Road Traffic Education(IRTE) and Global New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) ? held in January this year in Fardabad, the report of the first ever independent crash tests of a few Indian popular small cars was released. Quite shockingly, all the cars selected showed high risk of life threatening injuries in road crashes.

According to Max Mosley, Chairman of Global NCAP, poor structural integrity and absence of airbags are putting the lives of Indians at risk.

Rohit Baluja, President of IRTE, feels that it is not a question of know-how or capability;

Indian automobile industry just needs the right incentives.

David Ward, Secretary General, Global NCAP

answered a few questions from TrafficInfraTech.

A few Indian cars at the entry level failed the failed crash tests carried out by Global NCAP. Can you please elaborate on the testing processes adopted? In the models tested –Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800, the Tata Nano, Ford Figo, Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Polo–what were the structural weaknesses?

We tested the cars in two different formats. First we ran a frontal impact crash test at 56 kph which is the United Nations standard procedure (Regulation 94). Then we used a higher speed test of 64 kph also in a frontal impact. This test is commonly used by most new car assessment programmes (NCAPs) around the world. In the test the car is offset so that it hits the barrier with 40% of its frontal area. All the cars chosen were the entry level models so that they were the most affordable variant. In the Regulation 95 test, all but one of the cars initially tested failed. The Ford Figo passed despite not having an airbag as the dummies head narrowly avoided impacting the steering wheel. In the higher speed test, all the cars initially tested scored zero stars. This is due to the absence of minimum crash test standards and an Indian NCAP that can keep consumers informed. Once the tests were underway VW informed us that they were withdrawing the non-airbag version of the Polo. From now the car will be equipped with a driver and passenger front air bags as standard. We agreed to test the air bag equipped version and this elevates the Polo to a pass in the UN test and four stars in the NCAP test. The improved performance of the VW is not just because of the addition of the air bag. The car shows quite good body shell integrity which reduces the extent to which the occupant compartment collapses in a crash. The Ford Figo also showed these positive characteristics. Unfortunately the body shells of the Tata Nano, the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800, and Hyundai i10 did not perform so well. In the case of both the Nano and Alto 800, the body shell collapses were so severe that Global NCAP doubts if airbags would be effective in a crash. Overall what the tests show is that the minimum requirement for an acceptable level of safety (that would pass regulation 95) is a car with good body shell integrity and an airbag at least for the driver.

What is Global NCAP?s Indian Motor Vehicle Safety project?

It is a research project that Global NCAP undertook to assess current levels of crashworthiness of some popular and important cars on sale in the Indian market. India does not yet apply the minimum UN crash test standards or have an NCAP. India is an important country in the automotive industry. At the same time India suffers a very high number of road fatalities and car occupants are becoming an increasing problem accounting already for 17% of the total. The project is not an Indian NCAP. We would welcome the creation of one but it needs to be launched by Indian organisations; probably a combination of the Government and other partners, such as automobile clubs, insurers and consumer groups would be the best approach. Crucially, an Indian NCAP should be independent from the vehicle manufacturers to ensure that consumers are confident that the tests are objective and that all the car makers are given a level playing field.

If India wants both to reduce its level of road casualties and export more cars abroad, it should apply the most important UN safety standards as soon as possible

Since India is a major production centre for small cars as well as some luxury cars, there is a need to regulate the safety standards, suiting Indian conditions

India needs both an NCAP and action on vehicle safety standards. It is important to recognise that these are two quite different things. NCAPs do not make regulations. Instead they test cars for crashworthiness at a higher speed than the minimum regulation requires. This gives consumers the chance to assess the different safety levels of cars on the market. Government regulations should set the minimum safety level below which no cars should be allowed to be produced. In a highly globalised automotive industry, it makes good sense for India to harmonise its regulations with the UN?s system of vehicle standards. This would not only improve safety for cars in India, but will also help Indian manufacturers gain access to export markets which are increasingly applying UN standards as minimum requirements. Of course, Indian conditions are special but they are not entirely unique. Also given the huge increase both in car use and road building, India?s road safety challenge is becoming more similar to other emerging markets that are already adopting UN standards and NCAPs.

What are the minimum crash safety standards set by the UN?

The UN Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations meets in Geneva and develops a wide range of automobile standards for safety and also emissions. India already participates in the meetings and is a party to one of the main agreements adopted in 1998. It has still to decide to join an earlier agreement dating back to 1958. The most important safety standards are for frontal impact (Regulation 94) and fro side impact (Regulation 95). Both of these are part of the 1958 agreement and Global NCAP recommends that India join the agreement and apply these two standards as soon as possible. Under the 1998 agreement, there are also two other important global technical regulations. One is for Electronic Stability Control (ESC), an anti-skidding device that is now mandatory across all the major industrialised countries. Experts consider that it is the most effective safety device since the seat belt. It works in conjunction with anti-lock brake systems (ABS) and Global NCAP believes that both ABS and ESC should be a priority for regulatory action by the Indian government. The other regulation is for pedestrian protection and requires manufacturers to soften the front areas of the car (bumper and bonnet lid) to make them more forgiving in a crash. Given the high number of pedestrian fatalities in India, this regulation should also be given priority attention by the authorities.

How do you compare the existing safety standards in India with those of Europe or the US?

India?s standards are twenty years behind Europe and the USA, but they are also falling behind other major emerging markets. China now uses the same crash tests that were included in our research project. They also have a China NCAP and from 2012 it started using the 64kph crash test. Brazil is this year applying new regulations that will make air bags standard. Across South America, Latin NCAP is now testing a wide range of models at the 64 kph speed and last year five different models achieved five star ratings for crashworthiness. The ASEAN NCAP based in Malaysia is also using the high speed NCAP test and has also awarded five stars to some of the models it has rated. The trend is very clear. Across the world demand for safer vehicles is being pushed by better regulation and growing consumer awareness. India will lose out both in terms of safety and industrial competitiveness if it ignores the global drive for safer cars.

Every consumer has the right to choose a car as per the safety standards. But in India the necessary awareness is lacking.

Global NCAP strongly believes that consumers have a right to know about the levels of safety of the cars they buy. An Indian NCAP will make that happen and build awareness of the importance of safety. Crash test films are very effective in showing how different models compare and which technologies make a difference. For example is the crash test film of the Polo, both with and without airbags, in our Indian research project. The difference is zero and four stars. This translates into a very high risk of death compared with a strong probability of only minor injury. So it is vital that Indian consumers understand the safety choices they and their family face when buying a new car.

How important is the UN Global Instruments?

The UN standards are vital. They represent the best researched minimum standards available in the world. They are developed by all the signatory states of the 1998 and 1958 agreements with input from a wide range of stakeholders including industry, consumers and safety experts. Not only do they promote safety, they also make it easier for international trade in motor vehicles.

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