Why carmakers must stop the safety apartheid culture in India

The Global NCAP test for 2016 opened up a potential can of worms when it tested cars made in India. As per this test cars made by Indian car makers failed miserably on crash test parameters. The cars tested were Mahindra Scorpio, Maruti EECO & Celerio, Renault Kwid and Hyundai’s EON and i10 range of vehicles. All got the zero rating in the driver and passenger survival scores and this is an alarming revelation and has far-reaching ramifications for consumers looking to buy a car in the future.

To understand why this needs to be taken seriously, let’s look at a few data points. As per data from GOI  107072 people died in 2014. (more recent data is unavailable so, have to make do with this). Out of these 33320 people lost their lives in accidents involving cars and SUVs. That’s a lot of lives lost and a fair chance that some of these deaths could have been prevented due to safety features provided.

As expected, the Indian car-makers are quick to issue a bland response stating their adherence to Indian transport safety regulations (Read their responses here)

But car-makers are only one side of the coin. The other side is the regulations they claim they adhere to rather slavishly and with religious fervor.  Modern safety devices like ABS, seat belt indicators, airbags find mo mention in the archaic Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989. This legislation was formulated in an era where it was not mandatory for cars in India to even have seat belts fitted as a mandatory accessory.

According to a study done by Robert Bosch Accident Research Project in 2014, if ABS and airbags are made mandatory for cars, casualties are estimated to come down by 35 per cent. The attitude of carmakers, is no succor to the needs of the consumer of a safe ride home. In  an interview to Indian Express, the then CEO (now chairman) of Maruti suzuki said that More safety features in cars will mean less road safety. The usually erudite executive, attributed high prices, which prevent airbags, ABS from being offered at entry-level cars, going as far as saying “Somebody wants to sell an airbag, what does he do? He pushes the safety angle. Nobody has yet proved that unsafe cars are the reason for higher road fatalities.”

So much for road safety on Indian roads. When one finally makes up mind to buy a vehicle from showroom, he is given many options of the same car. Some options are justifiably, charged higher like audio, seats etc. but what was pathetic was that only the higher end (mostly the top model) had all the essential safety features. Just a glance through their websites/dealer’s showroom will prove this.

The irony is this, when one buys a four-wheeler, one has to take third-party insurance to for casualties arising from accidents. But the same manufacturer wont guarantee whether the car itself is safe for the driver himself or not.

It’s just not limited to car-makers cheating in India. In 2012, after years of denying unintended acceleration in several Toyota and Lexus models despite mounting evidence, Toyota agreed to pay the U.S. Government $1.2 billion to avoid prosecution, the largest criminal penalty ever imposed on a car company. Like any other major recall, Toyota first tried to blame driver error. Then it suggested that floor mats were somehow impeding the return of the gas pedal, even while the company was hiding documents that showed a flaw in the gas pedal assembly was the culprit. (Read more here)

Car safety activism started as early in 1960s in the US by maverick lawyer Ralph Nader. In his book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile ,Nader proceeded to criticized , in this classic of muckraking journalism, the auto industry for putting style and power over safety, and questioned the government’s lax attitude on regulation. This activism should start in India as well , understanding very well the unsafenedd of Indian roads as such.

It’s high time that car-makers realize their responsibility is not just limited to car sales alone. The safety apartheid must stop.



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