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As one of the fastest growing car markets in the world, India has to shed its dubious distinction of being the country with the most number of road traffic accidents and fatalities. Safety features in a car include air bags, seat belts and crumple zones—features that in the event of a collision absorb the kinetic energy. These features reduce chances and extent of injury to passengers when the vehicle deforms. To prevent skidding or to minimize injury from an accident, modern cars are equipped with an anti-lock braking system, safety
cage and traction control. Headrests prevent whiplash in rear impact accidents. Airbags are helpful in frontal crashes. Adjustable seats, paddles shift controls, electric windows and cruise control go a long way in reducing distractions and providing comfort while driving. Other safety features that buyers can consider are a backup camera, parking and side view assist, reverse backup and forward-looking sensors, adaptive headlights and cruise control.
In January 2014, five popular compact cars – Maruti Alto 800, Ford Figo, Tata Nano, Volkswagen Polo and Hyundai i10 – received zero adult protection ratings from NCAP as they had “inadequate vehicle structures that collapsed to varying degrees.” With popular models from major auto makers failing crash tests, the Centre will have to ensure compliance with stringent safety norms in the future. There are different types of this destructive testing that helps decide the ‘crashworthiness’ and level of safety an automobile can offer.
Although the Global New Car Assessment Programme (GNCAP) has recently shown that fast-selling models such as the Maruti Swift and the Nissan Datsun Go may soon lose that tag after having failed the crash tests, Vishnu Mathur from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) said that testing under India-specific would give accurate results. “Our average speed in India is far slower. To say that a particular car hasn’t met its (Global NCAP) test is nothing but scaremongering,” said Mathur. According to the global agency, these cars have shown “high risk of life-threatening injuries with both cars receiving zero-star safety rating for their adult occupant protection”. The report added, “These risks would be significantly reduced if the cars had to comply with the UN test regulation for frontal and side impact.” In defence of Maruti and Nissan, it must be mentioned that both auto makers have complied with all safety norms in India. According to the GNCAP, the lack of structural integrity and basic features like airbags account for these appalling safety ratings. The Renault Pulse and Duster, Nissan Micra, Hyundai i20, Ford EcoSport, Skoda Fabia, Honda Accord, and the Toyota Etios promise the buyer basic safety features such as air bags and ABS in some variants.
The Indian road ministry said that by October 2017–2019, basic side and frontal crash tests will be mandatory for all new and existing models.
The new Central Motor Vehicle Rules will delineate new safety norms and some restrictions that will hopefully usher in a new era of road safety in price-conscious India. The Indian government will set up testing facilities in Pune, Chennai and Manesar to get results that are based on local conditions. “Studies show that people have low sensitivity towards high security features. Indian car owners have little desire to have basic safety features like airbags, rear parking assist and rear windscreen wipers,” said JD Power Asia Pacific Executive Director, Mohit Arora. After going through a prolonged slump, one has to wait and see how counter-productive the expected price increases will be in the next couple of years.