Prioritising safety in India's automotive ecosystem

On Day One of the conclave, industry stalwarts weighed in on the different measures, resources and systems that must be implemented to make automobiles, two-wheelers and its user environment safer.

Autocar Pro News Desk By Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 11 Jun 2023 Views icon5187 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Against a fast changing landscape of the automotive sector, the government, OEMs, and technology firms are working actively towards establishing a resonance about vehicular and road safety criteria in order to achieve optimum value propositions for the end users.

In the recently held two-day Road Safety Conclave organised by Autocar Professional, industry experts discussed the measures and resources that must be implemented to research how advanced technologies can be employed both on vehicles and in traffic regulations to take safety to the next level, particularly with assistance intelligence (AI) and other digital tools.

Stressing the importance of collaboration between industry, academia, and government agencies, Thomas Broberg, Senior Technical Advisor, Safety, Volvo Cars Safety Centre, highlighted in his keynote address the need to promote joint awareness and dialogue as integral preventive measures to prevent accidents.

“If you take the global perspective, around 1.35 million people are killed in road traffic accidents every year, as per United Nations statistics. Consequently, it is important to work systematically and have a foundation in data and science, to come up with solutions to the issue of road safety,” he stated. For the sake of perspective, at least one person dies every three minutes on Indian roads, and the usual suspects — such as over speeding, drunken driving, driving on the wrong side, and failing to wear a seat belt or a helmet — along with bad road planning and potholes are coming out as major contributors, transport ministry data suggests.

Underlining the critical role of advanced safety technologies, he further added that there is an urgent need to analyse gaps and plug them with real-world data that will thereby help curb fatalities on the road.

Role of tech and innovations
While public safety measures are responsible for the majority of the savings, the experts emphasised the need for enhanced vehicle safety technologies that can also make a significant improvement in the road toll in India.

According to Broberg, protection of people inside and outside vehicles is paramount. There are a lot of harmonised tests, and the protection part is essential, he emphasised, as he took note of the importance of how advanced safety technologies, such as collision avoidance and driver assistance technologies, could be promoted.

Echoing similar views, other panelists unanimously agreed that the demand for greater road safety is likely to drive the development of assisted driving and other digital driving technologies in the future.

Prashanth Doreswamy, CEO and President of Continental India believes that safety is a fundamental right and perhaps one of the most important areas of research in the automotive industry.

“Safety is not just a mere feature in the automotive industry, rather it is a basic right. State-of-the-art design and implementation must be the target. Having local R&D helps us identify the 'white spots' — market-specific needs and affordability,” he said.

The industry can expect a significant increase in the number of cars equipped with assisted safety features on the roads in the next two or three years, Doreswamy added. “Our projection is that by 2025 or 2026, at least 40 percent of cars in India will have assisted function features, for which the basic requirement is Electronic Stability Control (ESC),” he said.

Airbags and ESC are crucial passive safety features in modern cars that protect drivers and passengers from accidents and prevent cars from slipping out of control, respectively.

Emphasising the importance of differentiating between active safety, passive safety, and comfort features in the automotive industry, Doreswamy suggested that embedding software-related features in features like ABS and vehicle traction systems can increase safety levels without significant price increases. He also added that local R&D will help bring affordable safety products to the market, and for ADAS, there's a long way to go.

Designing safer vehicles
Indian automobile customers are becoming safety conscious and are willing to stretch their budget to buy safer vehicles. And therefore designing safer vehicles has become a priority for automakers.

Rajendra Petkar, Chief Technology Officer of Tata Motors said that consumers today place a higher priority on safety than other factors like vehicle speed, fuel efficiency, or some other abilities. On the designing front, he said, “safety is part of the car's design DNA. Our engineers consider every safety-related factor. In terms of structural rigidity for the vehicle construction, we make sure that all the fundamental ingredients are in place,” he explained.

On commercial vehicle safety, Petkar claimed that Tata Motors trucks like Prima, Signa, and Ultra are equipped with Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS), which includes a collision mitigation system, lane departure warning system, and driver monitoring system.

On similar lines, Petr Solc, Brand Director, Skoda Auto India talked about how India-made cars Kushaq and Slavia have been recognised for the same, not only for the front passengers but also the rear seat passengers. "We made a conscious decision five years ago to manufacture cars in India. Our core has always remained safety, knowing that we might be more expensive than the competition, but safety is part of Skoda’s DNA, and we will continue in this,” he added.

“We are also taking ideas and safety features from our cars and engineers from Europe. We will be replicating and introducing many of the advanced European features that we have in our vehicles in India in the near future. For instance, our engineers are working on developing new features for India produced Kodiaq,” Solc added.

Two-wheeler safety
When it comes to safety features in two-wheelers, India has one of the most evolved standards globally, said Vinay Harne, President, New Product Development of TVS Motor Company. According to him, the onus of providing affordable and reliable safety features lies largely on the manufacturers, as Indian riding conditions are the most unique in the world. “Being one of the largest markets for two-wheelers across the globe, we have some of the most evolved safety features. For instance, we have some India-specific traction control features for riding on bad and muddy roads,” he said.

On the manufacturing front, road safety is a critical development priority for two-wheeler manufacturers, Harne noted. “For two-wheeler makers, safety is not one of the attributes that can be achieved, it is a question of existence for us and for our customers. Safety forms the basis of our business, as in our country, two-wheelers remain the affordable choice for commuters, but they are more prone to accidents than cars,” he stated.

As per a report published by the World Health Organization last year, nearly 30 percent of all road traffic deaths involve powered two- and three-wheeled vehicles, such as motorcycles, mopeds, scooters, and electrical bikes (e-bikes). As these vehicles become widespread, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, the proportion of deaths involving them is increasing.

In order to curb this, motorcycles these days already come equipped with synchronised braking systems, anti-lock braking systems (ABS), tubeless tyres and LED lighting, Harne noted. However, he added, much more needs to be done in the area of vehicle design. “In some of the vehicles, we are coming up with a digital display where there will be a camera for reminding the riders to wear helmets. The work is already in progress, and it will come out soon,” Harne said.

This feature was first published in Autocar Professional's June 1, 2023 issue.

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