Airbag as a 'standard' safety feature

Many high-end cars have it now, rules could follow

Airbag as a 'standard' safety feature

 The seat-belt was once an alien concept on Bangalore roads. Everyone knew the car had them but no one bothered until the law changed, and the traffic police got into inspection mode.

Seat belts soon became mandatory. The airbag, considered the most basic of features globally to pass a car safety test, could be next.

Here’s why: Several high-end cars sold in the City now offer airbag as a standard feature. Even if the State government doesn’t have this safety feature in its rules agenda, the airbag could get common soon. Transport commissioner, while reiterating that there is no immediate plan to make airbags mandatory, agreed that the feature could make a difference between life and death.

The airbag’s importance dramatically came to the fore recently when five best-selling cars in the country failed crash tests conducted by a London-based car-safety watchdog. The cars were Tata Nano, Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, Hyundai i10, Ford Figo and Volkswagen Polo. But, as interactions with many automobile sales people in the city revealed, a change was in the offing. 

For instance, barring Spark, all the other Chevrolet cars sold in the city now offer airbag as an attractive option. A salesperson at the Lakshmi Hyundai showroom explained that the airbags were now available as single-seat and two-seat options. One of the high-end cars even has a side airbag. However, the airbag had to come factory-fitted and was not available as an accessory.

Since the entry-level car market is extremely price sensitive, added features such as an expensive airbag is yet to gain traction. That is why, as automobile experts pointed out, basic models such as Alto, WagonR and Santro did not offer the airbag even as an option. In high-end cars, the feature would add Rs. 50,000 upwards to the cost but could still sell without affecting affordability too much. 

The transport commissioner had directly seen the benefit of an airbag. “A few years ago, I saw a very bad accident involving a Benz car. But both the passengers inside survived because of the airbag,” he recalled to Deccan Herald.  

With cars getting faster and some tolled roads in the city becoming high-speed friendly, the airbag could prove crucial in arresting rising accident fatalities.

 Automobile experts suggested that legislation could make a big difference. If all manufacturers were forced to make the airbag a standard feature at affordable rates, more people would adopt it. 

Incidentally, a public interest litigation was filed before the Madurai bench of the Madras high court seeking installation of airbags in all motor vehicles in the country. On February 18 this year, the bench ordered issue of notices to the principal secretaries of central and state transport departments on this matter.

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