India’s automobile industry is growing through a major transformation. A new set of vehicle safety norms is set to come into effect, starting October. The car industry is rapidly upgrading its products to meet these stringent safety norms. The norms laid down by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways are at par with safety standards in Europe. Interestingly, these safety norms cover not just car users, but also aim to minimize injury to pedestrians who may be hit by an automobile.
Though companies are investing in new equipment such as airbags and anti-lock braking systems, they are also making other innovations so that these additional equipment does not unduly increase vehicle weight and compromise on other important aspects like emission, performance, and customer comfort.
Car companies are investing in extensive research, testing and evaluation to ensure these cars meet advanced safety norms. In Maruti Suzuki, for example, we crash test 35-40 cars of each model at our advanced R & D Centre in Rohtak, Haryana.
All this effort and investment is being made to minimize injury and fatalities in road accidents. Nearly 1.5 lakh people die on Indian roads each year. Disturbed by this, union minister for road transport, highways, and shipping Nitin Gadkari has taken the challenge of bringing this to half by 2020. As automobile engineers, it gives us great satisfaction to be contributing our efforts to a national goal.
However, all these efforts may be nullified if we do not acquire a basic habit: putting on the seat belt while traveling in an automobile. Strange as it may seem, the more advanced the safety features in a car, the more critical is the role of the humble seat belt. For example, in a vehicle with airbags, if the passengers are not wearing the seat belt at the time of a crash, an airbag could end up causing harm to the passengers.
As per WHO (report published in 2015), wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatality among drivers and front seat passengers by 45-50 percent. The risk of serious injuries comes down by 45 percent. Among passengers on the rear seat, says WHO, seat belts reduce fatal and serious injuries by 25 percent. In fact, this is leading countries to not just adopt comprehensive seat belt laws, but also strengthen enforcement.
This expert view is reinforced in our experience in the R & D lab. Our tests show the impact is much more severe on dummies that do not wear a seat belt.
India’s record with regard to seat belts is dismal and shocking. In most parts of the country, vehicle users are not even expected to wear a seat belt. There is practically no enforcement of this rule. Even where enforcement is stringent, it is confined to the passengers in the front seats. For some strange reason, rear seat passengers are not expected to wear the seat belts provided for them.
I see this as a big opportunity. If we could only adopt this simple act of wearing a seat belt each time we use a vehicle – voluntarily, in areas where it is not enforced – we would be bringing down road fatalities by a significant number. As cars become more sophisticated in terms of safety, it is even more critical that we belt up every single time for ourselves and our loved ones.
(The author is the head of R&D at Maruti Suzuki)