Recently, in an effort to reduce the number of people that die on the roads in India every year (some 250,000), the government announced plans to raise the bar for minimum safety features for vehicles in the country. As it stands, the standards are very low and even minor head on collisions can kill the driver and passengers due to missing supports, lack of crumple zones and even basic safety features like disc brakes and airbags. However, unsurprisingly the motor industry in the coountry has come out against it, with one industry head saying that improving safety woould actually lead too more deaths on the roads.
According to RC Bhargava, head of Maruti Suzuki, cars are affordable for a lot of people, but he said, if the companies are forced to improve the safety standards of their vehicles, then the cost of the vehicles will go up too. If that happens he said, people will go back to using bikes and scooters, vehicles that he claims are far less safe than the ones his company and others provide at the moment.
Claiming that India was very different than other parts of the world where safety is more paramount in vehicle design, he said: “The intention should be to reduce road fatalities. Therefore, we have to take a total picture of Indian road issues. If you only take cars, that results in just 3-4% improvement. But this may also do damage somewhere else, because the risk factor of a person driving a two-wheeler is far higher than those driving even old Fiat cars,” he said (via IndianExpress).
He then put it to politicians that this would actually result in a net drop in safety. Even putting the price up by a little he said, would result in people putting off new car purchases.
Early estimates suggest that making a car contain at least a driver airbag, would push the price of each vehicle by about £310. Whether all of that would be pushed on to the consumer remains to be seen. Potentially the government could subsidise it, but considering the number of cars in India is growing exponentially, that could become far too expensive.
Airbags are also not the first line of defence for car safety, actual structure of the car needs to be sound first. In tests run earlier this month, Global NCAP fouond that the Datsun Go, one of the available Nissan cars in the country, needed to be recalled as it featured almost zero protection for the driver. In a head on collision at even modest speeds, it was expected that a driver would die in almost every instance. An airbag wouldn’t help either, as the problem as that the car’s entire body would fold up, crushing the driver.
Bhargava’s suggestion moving forward was to instead try and improve pedestrian and motorbike road safety, since most road deaths in India are to do with those not in vehicles being hit or crashing themselves.