Car Safety

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Things to Know

The In­dian road min­istry has said that pass­ing min­i­mum frontal and side crash tests will be manda­tory for all new cars from Oc­to­ber 2017. For new ve­hi­cles of ex­ist­ing mod­els, the dead­line will be Oc­to­ber 2019. While the frontal crash tests will be at 56 kmph, the norms set for side crash tests will be 50 kmph. Both the stan­dards will meet the in­ter­na­tional test norms that make ve­hi­cles safer for oc­cu­pants. A Bharat New Car As­sess­ment Pro­gramme is also be­ing de­vel­oped and will be­gin test­ing once the nec­es­sary lab­o­ra­tory ca­pac­ity is avail­able. Over­all, it does seem that car driv­ers and pas­sen­gers in In­dia can look for­ward to a new safety regime. So then, now is as good a time as any to get the low­down on safety ba­sics.

So far, car man­u­fac­tur­ers have been get­ting away with less for less, cit­ing price sen­si­tiv­ity of con­sumers as a pri­mary rea­son. As per this ra­tio­nale, In­dian con­sumers on the whole are fine with less safety fea­tures if this means that the car of their dreams be­comes af­ford­able. An­other rea­son doled out by man­u­fac­tur­ers is that in­ner-city road con­di­tions in In­dia are such

that the av­er­age speed of a ve­hi­cle is quite on the low side and hence safety fea­tures can­not be com­pared to global stan­dards. (Are they try­ing to say that their small cars should not be driven on na­tional high­ways, ex­press­ways, speed­ways and all those mod­ern con­nec­tiv­ity projects that al­low you to speed?)

Post the crash test on five top-sell­ing small-car brands in In­dia by New Car As­sess­ment Pro­gramme (NCAP) early last year, sev­eral car man­u­fac­tur­ers had claimed that the cars met the min­i­mum re­quired stan­dards in the mar­kets for which they were made. How­ever, there was no clar­ity if th­ese min­i­mum stan­dards were in sync with the United Na­tions’ min­i­mum safety re­quire­ments. (In In­dia it is not manda­tory to fol­low the United Na­tions’ min­i­mum crash-test stan­dards.) Also, their claim was not backed by any proof that the driver and the pas­sen­gers could feel ‘safe’ while driv­ing the tested cars. Hence, say­ing that the cars met the stan­dards did not really mean they were safe.

In Jan­uary 2014, Global NCAP con­ducted the first-ever in­de­pen­dent crash tests on some of In­dia’s best-sell­ing cars – Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, Tata Nano, Ford Figo, Hyundai i10, and Volk­swa­gen Polo. All the cars cho­sen by Global NCAP were en­try-level ver­sions. Th­ese did not have airbags and were clearly at a dis­ad­van­tage. Two tests were car­ried out: the United Na­tions' ba­sic safety test (40 per cent off­set at 56 kmph) and the Global NCAP test (40 per cent off­set at 64 kmph). Go­ing by the re­sults, none of th­ese cars would be able to save the driver or pas­sen­gers from get­ting fa­tal in­juries when 40 per cent of their car’s front (fend­ers, bon­net and bumpers) crashed into any­thing while driv­ing at about 56 kmph and 64 kmph speeds. Of the cars tested, only the Ford Figo passed the UN test de­spite not hav­ing a driver airbag. It was close, as the driver’s head nar­rowly missed the steer­ing wheel. VW has de­cided to with­draw the non-airbag-equipped version from the In­dian mar­ket and up­grade all its cars with airbags.

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