The India automobile industry is going through a period of rapid changes. The last decade has seen more changes in rules and the outlook of consumers than the entire 50 years after the Independence.
India, which enjoys the status of the fourth largest market in the world in terms of vehicle sales, leads the world in the number of road accidents, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) data.
The main problem is that roads are not expanding at the rate at which the number of vehicles is going up. Of late, Indian consumers, for whom vehicles used to be a symbol of status and think in terms of mileage they deliver, have now started looking at safety aspects due to the surge in accidents.
What triggered the behavioural shift in the mindset of consumers and carmakers was the crash tests of five India-made vehicles conducted by a foreign agency in 2014. Here is a glimpse into the tests of NCAP that have become a key valuation benchmark for vehicle safety for manufacturers and consumers.
The NCAP stands for New Car Assessment Programme. It began as an independent entity run with the support of the government in 1979 in the US. Later, it expanded to other key auto markets such as Japan, China, Australia and Europe and influenced carmakers to improve the safety standards of their vehicles. The key feature of the NCAP is that it conducts tests to deliver the best adapted solutions to the local conditions of respective countries. If the testing standards are strict in the US, Europe and Australia, in developing countries like India, it has designed its tests on the principle of better safety at a lower cost.
"Compared to Global NCAP, the Euro NCAP tests are much more stringent. It conducts four tests - two frontal and two side-impact tests."
If entities like ARAI decides if the vehicle has cleared the test or not, the NCAP rates cars on a scale of zero to five. The vehicles that fares the best in the test get a five-star rating. This helps consumers and carmakers to assess the safety standards of various cars.
In African countries that do not have its own safety standards and developing countries like India, the tests are carried out by the Global NCAP. Compared to the Euro NCAP that crash-tests cars in the European Union and US NCAP in the US, the Global NCAP conducts tests on the most basic motor vehicle safety standards mandated by the United Nations.
How is it done?
A front offset crash test is designed to simulate a head-on collision between two cars with two adult passengers in the front seats with that seat belts fastened, and two children aged 18 months and three years in child seats with restraint systems driven at a speed of 50 kmph. For this, two larger dummies are placed in the front and two smaller ones in the back, and the vehicle is propelled at a speed of 64 kmph and crashed into a barrier.
Data is collected on the impact on passengers with the help of sensors fitted on the head, chest, thighs and below the knees. Besides, everything is captured from various angles on several high-speed cameras mounted inside and outside the vehicle for super-slow-motion footage. This helps in scientific analysis of the damages caused to the body and dummies inside the vehicle at the time of the crash. Each vehicle is given scores based on these parameters of testing.
Two types of ratings
While the first rating is based on the assessment of the safety of adult passengers seated in front, the second is based on the safety of the children seated behind.
A vehicle is given zero to 17 points for its adult passengers' safety. If an impact can lead to serious injuries to main organs of the passengers, such vehicles won't get any mark or rating. The vehicles without air bags are given zero rating because an accident in such a vehicle could result in serious injuries to the driver's head and chest after hitting the steering wheel.
On child's safety, a vehicle is given zero to 49 points. Out of these, 36 points are linked to injuries caused by the collision between the seats or being thrown out of them. The rest of the 13 points are awarded to special features that are installed to ensure safety of kids. If a car gets more than 46 points, it will get a five-star rating. If the points are between 37 and 46, the rating is four stars, between 25 and 37, three stars and 13 to 25, two stars and below 13, zero star.
When compared to Global NCAP, the Euro NCAP tests are much more stringent. A total of four tests - two from front and two from sides - are conducted for Euro tests. A vehicle needs to get excellent safety standards in all these tests and needs to be equipped with autonomous emergency braking systems and seats that could withstand whiplash test to get a five-star rating.
Besides, the Euro NCAP also tests the pedestrian safety that assesses the pedestrian protection of cars tested. Hence, the top rating received by an India-made car does not mean that it has the same standards of a European car.
"The child seat is an important safety feature like the seat belts. The seat belts that are designed to suit adults would not suit children."
Six years of changes
Indian carmakers who were providing vehicles at the most affordable price point were forced to rethink their strategy after the Global NCAP ran a campaign - #SaferCarsForIndia. Until 2014, carmakers used to provide air bags, ABS and other safety features in top models only. After the arrival of Global NCAP, most of the carmakers have started providing air bags as a standard fitment.
The government also took a policy decision to enforce crash tests mandatory for new cars launched after October 1, 2017. All existing models of cars were given two years' time to comply with the rule. Since October 1, 2019, cars that do not clear the crash test are not sold in India. From April 1 this year, air bags too have been made mandatory in all cars.
Compared to the Global NCAP standards, the crash tests in India are to be conducted at a minimum speed of 56 kmph. Though the speed is pretty slow, several vehicles that are sold in India currently are unlikely to clear this. Once all these rules come into force in India, consumer can expect to see all unsafe vehicles being pulled out of the market.
Seat belt is key
Even if the vehicle has all the safety features, if the seatbelt is not worn properly, the chances of passengers suffering serious injuries are high. For example, in a vehicle that is travelling at a speed of 100 kmph, even the passengers are travelling at the same speed. In case of an accident, the speed is reduced in a fraction of a second. The passengers who are not wearing the seatbelt will hit the window panes, dashboard and side panels at 100 kmph. The impact is similar to an accident where a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle travelling at a speed of 100 kmph.
The child seat is another safety feature that is equally important as seat belt. Seat belts are designed for adults and won't suit children. Besides, the chances are more that children could get entangled in the seat belt and die. This is the reason why child seats have been made mandatory in foreign countries.
If you think that spending a little more money to buy a foreign made luxury car equipped with six air bags, traction control and other superior safety features will allow them to travel without wearing seat belt and keep their kids on their laps, you are wrong. You need to wear the seat belt; just think that it is your lifeline.