Equip cars with best safety features

The failure of a number of Indian cars in the recent crash safety tests done by the Global New Car Assessment Programme (GNCAP) shows that they have to go a long distance to reach international standards. Maruti Suzuki Swift and Nissan Datsun GO were the latest to fail to make the grade. A number of other entry level cars, including the Maruti Alto, the Tata Nano, the Hyundai i10 and the Ford Figo had earlier failed the test. Some of them were rated zero on a scale of five. These are among the most popular cars on Indian roads and their poor performance has serious implications for the lives and health of large numbers of people. The GNAP represents a number of watchdog organisations in the field. Its standards are globally accepted benchmarks and are followed by car makers the world over in countries where there is a mandatory safety regime.

The manufacturers’ claim that the cars meet Indian safety standards is unacceptable. The tests were carried out at 64 kmph speed while the Indian standard is 56 kmph. But cars are driven at much higher speeds on highways and safety measures should be based on this reality. The bad condition of roads and unruly traffic accentuate the danger. Seat belts and air bags are essential safety features. But cars do not come with air bags and many people do not use seat belts. Indian manufacturers make cars with the required safety features for export. They should introduce them in cars for the Indian market also. This may make the cars more costly. But a safe and higher-priced car is to be preferred to a cheap and dangerous one. Safety features of a car should be an important consideration when the purchase decision is made. But many buyers ignore them and pay more attention to features like price, fuel efficiency, size, looks etc.

The government has woken up to the need to lay down enhanced safety standards. The Bharat New Vehicle Assessment Programme proposes to assign ratings to cars on the basis of their safety performance. It is to be implemented in phases and within two years, new cars will have ratings based on their performance in crash safety performance tests. The mandatory frontal crash test will, however, be at 56 kmph.  The standard needs to be set higher, going forward. India has the largest number of road accidents and casualties in the world and the death toll was close to 1,40,000 last year. Equipping cars and other vehicles with the best safety features should be among the first priorities of car producers.

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