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Five decades ago, Ralph Nader charged the American auto icons that their products were unsafe at any speed.

For India, which suffered 146,000 road deaths in 2015, road safety has never been a priority. Global NCAP’s latest crash test results have highlighted the need to mandate crash tests for passenger vehicles.

The first wake-up call came in January 2014 when Global NCAP announced results of crash tests it conducted on five popular small cars – Maruti Alto, Tata Nano, Hyundai i10, Ford Figo and Volkswagen Polo. The outcome revealed that those cars had weak structures; the absence of airbags made them unsafe for passengers. All those cars received a zero-star rating for adult protection.

Announcing its second test results in November 2014, Global NCAP said Nissan’s Datsun Go and the Suzuki Maruti Swift received zero-star adult protection ratings. However, Datsun promised to improve the safety of the Go with a stronger body shell and optional airbags.

Now in 2016, Volkswagen Polo is described as the safest hatchback as it has equipped the vehicle with airbags as standard. Polo comes with twin airbags as standard, moving the protection level of this model from a high-risk, life-threatening injuries with zero star, to four (out of five) stars for adult-occupant protection.


Appalling zero-star rating...


In May 2016, Global NCAP revealed its third crash test results in which five well-known models – Renault Kwid, Maruti Suzuki Celerio, Maruti Suzuki Eeco, Mahindra Scorpio and Hyundai Eon were tested. The results showed a very low level of adult occupant protection in all these. All of them scored an appalling zero-star rating. The biggest shock was Mahindra SUV, which has been marketed as a robust vehicle, also receiving zero rating.

The no airbag Eeco scored zero star in the adult-occupant protection and one star in child-occupant protection. The Hyundai Eon offered in the standard version without airbags, scored zero stars in the adult-occupant protection and two stars for child-occupant protection. The non-airbag Maruti Suzuki Celerio scored zero star in adult -occupant protection and one star in child-occupant protection.

 “It is very surprising that a reputed manufacturer like Renault launched its prestigious product Kwid with such fanfare, should lack this essential feature. Remember IE suggesting Renault Chief Carlos Ghosn that he should have offered Kwid with twin airbags as a USP. Global NCAP firmly believes that no manufacturer anywhere in the world should be developing new models that are so clearly sub-standard,” said David Ward, Secretary General of Global NCAP.

Renault has promised to enhance safety performance of the Kwid. Four versions of the Kwid have been produced with different safety features, with the fourth only recently released and yet to be tested by Global NCAP.

As an independent body, Global NCAP has pledged to partner and support United Nations’ initiative of Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020), which aims to reduce by 50 per cent the forecast number of road fatalities by 2020. This is expected to prevent 5 million deaths, 50 million injuries and save $3 trillion. One of its principal objectives is to encourage the development of New Car Assessment Programmes (NCAPs) in emerging markets, which rates the cars with stars awarded based on occupant protection scores.

India ranks sixth largest in the world for production and sale of passenger cars and is expected to become world’s third largest market by 2020. Passenger vehicles accounted for about 14 per cent in the domestic automotive market in 2015-16.

The humongous death toll on roads

India has one of the highest road fatalities in the world and sadly it continues to rise. According to estimates of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, road deaths increased to 146,000 in 2015 from 139,671 in 2014. This translates to a human loss of an estimated Rs.10 billion annually.

 Indian Vehicle Safety Standards are in line with European Regulations. A complete set of safety standards is implemented except the crash standards and Bus Body Code. However, bus Body Code has already come into force.

The Indian government has taken the initiative to set up Bharat NCAP, which will be on the similar lines of Global NCAP.

Ministry of Road Transport & Highways has formed a dedicated panel for introducing safety features in new vehicles under ‘Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme’, which will be voluntary from October 2017 and mandatory by October 2020.

 If a safety defect, which poses the risk of accident or harm to the vehicle occupant, is recognised in cars, the manufacturers will have to conduct a voluntary recall and offer to rectify the vehicles free of charge.

 As it is preparing to mandate crash standards, the government is also working on to ensure availability of adequate testing facilities. Also major issues like education of stakeholders, training of drivers, vehicle fitness compliance, enforcement of safety acts and development of good roads needed to be attended with vigour.

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