Come the first fortnight of the month of May and the topic of road and automotive safety comes to the fore – all over the world and in India too. The world over, there are 3,500 fatalities each day and 500 of them children due to road crashes.
The United Nations, has for long, been putting its shoulder to the wheel of road safety. 2017 is the seventh year in UN’s Decade of Action for Road Safety, with a goal to stabilise and then reduce the forecast level of road traffic fatalities around the world by increasing activities conducted at the national, regional and global levels.
In today’s turbulent times and geopolitical developments, road traffic injuries remain a major public health problem and a leading cause of death, injury and disability around the world. Each year, nearly 1.3 million people die and between 20 million and 50 million more are injured as a result of road crashes. More than 90 percent of these deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, which have less than half of the world’s vehicles. Road traffic injuries are among the three leading causes of death for people between 5 and 44 years of age.
Road traffic injuries threaten to hinder achievements in economic and human development. It has been estimated that losses due to road traffic injuries cost governments between 1 and 3 percent of their gross national product. In some low- and middle-income countries, the loss is more than the total amount of development assistance they receive. Road traffic injuries place a heavy burden on a country’s economy as a result of their direct impact on health-care and rehabilitation services, as well as through indirect costs. They also can put considerable financial stress on affected families, who often must absorb medical and rehabilitation costs, funeral costs and such other costs as the lost earnings of the victim, in addition to extensive emotional strain.
India, which is experiencing fast-paced growth as a passenger vehicle (it crossed 3 million sales in FY2017) and two-wheeler manufacturer (India now ahead of China in terms of volume) continues to be the country with the worst accident record globally. In 2015, it had the hoary statistic of over 146,000 fatalities due to road accidents – or 400 per day – and as many as four times that number injured or disabled every year. 2016 numbers, which have not yet been released, are not expected to be any better.
The government now seems to be seized of the sheer gravity of the issue and has taken it upon itself to reduce the number of road accident fatalities by half by the year 2019. It has already identified over 2,500 accident spots on national highways which crisscross the country. These highways constitute only two percent of the total road network but cater to almost 80 percent of the traffic. While the drive to safer roads in India is a long one, industry bodies like SIAM, ACMA and stakeholders like vehicle and component manufacturers are now doing their bit in the realm of road safety. The government
Autocar Professional’s webinar on ‘Embarking on a Safer Journey’, the third in its series, was held on May 8 – the first day of the Fourth UN Global Road Safety Week. It saw a quintet of expert industry heads representing Maruti Suzuki, Automotive Research Association of India, Hella, Continental and Global New Car Assessment Programme. The webinar, moderated by Autocar Professional’s executive editor Sumantra B Barooah, and sponsored by Hella India Lighting (title sponsor) and Continental (associate sponsor), saw all the speakers debate various safety related issues, specific to their strengths and domains. However, what they all agreed upon is that while technology continues to be the driving force to save lives, it is not the silver bullet or the final solution. In a country like India, it has to be used in conjunction with increased awareness and education if it is to achieve its mission optimally -- reduce the number of accidents and save lives.
Making their presence felt at the webinar were Deepak Sawkar, senior vice-president (Technical Administration), Maruti Suzuki India; A V Mannikar, senior deputy director, Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI); Ramashankar Pandey, managing director, Hella India Lighting; Jaidev Venkataraman, head - Engineering, Vehicle Dynamics, Continental Automotive Components India; and Alejandro Furas, technical director, Global NCAP. The 3rd edition of the annual webinar saw a record participation of over 220 individuals representing component manufacturers, vehicle OEMs, research agencies and academia, among others.
Maruti Suzuki: Mission road safety
For Maruti Suzuki India, the country’s largest carmaker, safety takes a backseat in people’s consciousness. According to Deepak Sawkar, senior vice-president (Technical Administration), a deep-rooted belief in karma, said Sawkar, makes it difficult to convince buyers in most parts of the country of the need to pay a higher price for a safer product or a car equipped with safety kit like airbags and ABS, among other things. He rues the fact that despite seatbelts being made mandatory, rear seat passengers do not strap themselves up safely or properly. As a result, seatbelt wearing rate in India is a poor 26 percent compared to 77 percent in the USA, 83 percent in Japan, 94 percent in the UK, 98 percent in Germany and 99 percent in France, said Sawkar citing a 2015 WHO report on safety. As is known, seatbelts are a primary restraint system and can reduce fatality risk by 45-60 percent. In comparison, airbags on their own can reduce fatality risk by only 12 percent. Clearly, seatbelt usage is imperative to driver and passenger safety.
An airbag-equipped Maruti Alto. Nearly 45 percent of its cars sold in FY2017 had airbags installed as standard equipment.
Nevertheless, the carmaker has been driving along the safety path for sometime now. Today, almost 45 percent of its cars or 649,638 units in 2016-17 – Maruti sold 1,443,641 units last fiscal – have airbags installed as standard equipment. This is considerably up from the 2 percent in 2002. The company has also been among the forerunners in spreading safety awareness. Airbags are set to become mandatory in all made-in-India cars in 2019.
With BNVSAP (Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program ) coming into force in October 2017, Maruti is gearing up to build stronger, lighter and safer cars. With frontal and offset crash tests becoming mandatory for all new models from 2017 and for all existing models as well from October 2019, the Indian car market will see products being developed to the same safety levels as their counterparts in developed markets, even though most of them have been based on shared platforms.
According to Sawkar, seven of 15 existing Maruti models are already crashworthy and have passed homologation for the upcoming crash norms. Interestingly, the carmaker plans to phase out certain platforms altogether by 2019 as they are deemed unsuitable to be modified any further to comply with the frontal and offset tests.
Where the company has achieved considerable success is in the field of driver training through its 10 IDTRs and over 400 Maruti Driving Schools in 191 cities across India. Equipped with driving simulators, theoretical and practical training, Maruti trains more than 150,000 new drivers each years, introducing a new generation of safe drivers into the ecosystem. Since 2002, it has single-handedly trained over three million people! It now also targets to train 80,000 heavy vehicle drivers every year.
Sawkar emphasized the need for traffic and road safety education as part of school curriculum as it is in Japan. Commenting on the need to enhance vehicle safety standards, Sawkar said, “The highly diverse Indian market needs indigenous solutions to tackle the multitude of problems, involving the financial aspect of the car buying population as well and foreign standards cannot directly work in the Indian context.”
He said the government is working on a mandatory vehicle recall code. At present, the currently voluntary recall by OEMs does not have any penal measures in place. The mandatory recall code will have OEMs report safety critical defects and repair/replace them, the absence of which will entail hefty monetary fines or both. Enforcement and deterrence are critical, he said.
Sawkar also pointed out how poor road engineering and road building across the country leads to accidents – things like poorly built or bad gradient roads, poor or inadequate road markings. Scientifically built roads will help reduce the number of accidents, he said. He also called for the strengthening of the inspection and certification regime in India to ensure vehicle roadworthiness. Disincentives by additional taxation for vehicles without adequate safety features would lead to scrappage of such vehicles.
He lauded the setting up of the Road Accident Sampling System – India (RASSI) to be also aiding in collection, as well as in the analysis of absolute road accident numbers in the country, which could be used for better situation monitoring and for taking corrective measures.
ARAI: Aim for safety beyond norms
A V Mannikar, senior deputy director and head of passive safety laboratory at The Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) represented the regulatory body in the webinar. He brought in a new perspective to the discussion and updated the audience on the newly devised regulations that are scheduled to kick in soon.
Mannikar began his presentation by raising the importance of the on-ground implementation of the safety regulations. “The success of achieving road safety through various regulations is directly dependent on the implementation of the same by the road users,” he said.
According to the senior ARAI official, the possible areas for regulatory interventions could include mandatory driver training programs, regulation of heavy motor vehicles, protection of children, faulty road designs and engineering, drunk-driving and overspeeding, unified licensing system, vulnerable road users, scientific accident investigation and mandatory seabelt and helmet laws.
Safety technologies that Mannikar suggested would bring improvements in the Indian scenario include helmets for two-wheelers, antilock braking systems for two- and four-wheelers, seatbelts and safety belt reminders, airbags and other occupant protection systems for all vehicles, electronic stability control (ESC) for heavy vehicles, radial and tubeless tyres for all vehicles, adaptive front lighting systems, and conspicuity for vulnerable road users among many others.
ARAI’s focus on in-vehicle safety will see several new standards including safety homologation roadmap, adoption of crash standards for passenger cars, child safety, Bharat New Car Assessment Program (Bharat NCAP) and the new road transport bill.
“The crash standards that are on the anvil include offset frontal crash test, side impact crash test, frontal and pedestrian protection. These are notified for implementation,” disclosed Mannikar.
He also highlighted that the child restraint systems (CRS) are notified for implementation from April 2015 wherein the all-new vehicle will be required to provide one identified seat with the facility to fit the CRS. According to the ARAI official, the CRS is for children upto 16 years of age and the said regulation is applicable only for the private passenger vehicles.
Giving updates on the Bharat NCAP and the new road transport and safety bill, Mannikar stated, “the technical proposal for Bharat NCAP is already drawn up. We are waiting for the government approval on the same. The new bill is dedicated to save more than 200,000 lives in first five years. The graded penalty point system with enhanced fines will act as a deterrent and improve traffic discipline.”
New regulations that are scheduled to kick in soon include BS VI emission norms for all vehicles, mandatory braking systems for two-wheelers (CBS for two-wheelers less than 125cc and ABS for 125cc and above two-wheelerss), crash and fuel efficiency norms for passenger cars and HCVs (more than 12 tonnes). ARAI has also devised set of bus and truck body codes for the commercial vehicle industry.
Continental: Driving towards Vision Zero
German technology products and services major Continental Auto has been at the forefront of developing automotive safety technologies. It may be recollected that India’s first two-wheeler with ABS was the TVS Apache RTR which was equipped a cost-efficient, single-channel ABS system from Continental. Now the company has started local production of single-channel ABS and ESC systems at its Gurgaon plant. And it has an R&D hub in Bangalore staffed by over 1,000 engineers.
The company believes that mobility, which has given mankind a sense of freedom, has also brought with itself millions of casualties, with around 50 million people getting injured every year and close to 1.25 million, losing their lives. Thus, the Vision Zero mission – zero accidents, zero injuries, zero fatalities. While this might be a utopian vision in the Indian context, at least in the near future, its final goal is laudatory.
With around 95 percent of all road mishaps involving human error and around 76 percent purely because of so, the company has been engineering newer safety technologies to assist humans and pre-empt such accidents to bring down the casualty rates on the roads, which boast of a global vehicular population of 1 billion, since the last 100 years of the first automobile coming to life.
As a result, Continental has been trudging on the path of Vision Zero injuries and according to Jaidev Venkataraman, head - Engineering, Vehicle Dynamics, Continental Automotive Components India, “Although occurrence of accidents cannot be cent-percent nullified, but, safety technology should be able to mitigate any casualties and injuries to zero.”
With development of new technologies like electronic braking systems, which include ABS, ESC and Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), the company aims to achieve Vision Zero by the year 2025.
Continental also sees widespread application of adaptive cruise control and remote parking technologies in the near future, all pointed in the direction of enhancing road safety.
Even though modern technology is consistently being developed, the company also feels the need for better awareness and pitches for serious campaigns, like the ‘7th Sense’ initiative run by the German authorities, which ran from 1966 until 2005 in the country, making good road habits a core part of almost all generations.
Hella: Shedding new light on safety
Automotive lighting major Hella is a strong proponent of road safety. Driving the company’s safety initiatives in this part of the world is Ramashankar Pandey, MD, Hella India Lighting.
Besides heading Hella’s lighting division in India, he is also acknowledged as one of the industry pioneers in drawing attention towards the alarming number of road accidents year after year. Pandey, who has been propagating several road safety measures and awareness, firmly believes that improved conspicuity of moving and stationary vehicles on the road can cut down on a vast number of casualties.
Comparing India with China in terms of road accident deaths, Pandey highlighted that while the number is alarmingly increasing in India every year, China is recording lowering casualties through various controls and measures.
Discussing what he terms as the lead strategy, he presented a safety circle covering three critical factors involving any road accident. It includes recognition, reaction and injury avoidance. He stressed that lighting technologies play one of the most important role in the recognition of all objects on the road. While braking technologies such as ABS come under reaction, seatbelts, airbags and other safety features help injury avoidance.
Stressing upon the vehicle lighting aspect, Pandey, who has been talking about deploying advanced technologies to save lives today, remarked, “Low road visibility, improper signalling, glare, failure in providing signal to other vehicles, and excessive speed are some of the major factors that lead to road accidents.”
“Of these, almost 50 percent of accidents happen due to low visibility and illumination,” he added quoting a Tata Motors presentation from the past.
Talking about road safety particularly at night, Pandey stressed upon a few interesting facts. “Although only 20 percent of the traffic commutes during the night, around 40 percent accidents on the Indian roads happen during the dark hours,” he revealed.
He suggested that advanced lighting technologies such as the variable intelligent lighting system (VARILIS) be deployed in passenger vehicles to improve upon drives’ night vision. According to his presentation, the intelligent light fully automatically adjusts itself to different driving situation and lighting conditions including wide beam pattern (for early detection of pedestrians and cyclists) in towns and improved illumination of bends on country roads.
Hella India’s road safety mission includes emphasis on commercial vehicles, which, as studies claim, see the highest involvement in road accidents. According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, more than 37 percent accidents are caused by CVs. The company manufactures and supplies LED tail-lamps for CVs, which offer superior relative intensity during the night thereby offering few more critical meters to the incoming vehicle to brake down safely.
“The purpose of light is to see and to be seen. We can save many lives by using advanced lighting technologies,” he concluded.
GNCAP: Indian OEMs can make safer cars
Global New Car Assessment Programme (Global NCAP) Global safety watchdog will announce results of its latest crash test under its #SaferCarsforIndia campaign tomorrow (May 10). The results are expected to be "positive". However, it may not be as good as the best-yet four-star results scored by the Tata Zest and Toyota Etios. The organisation has been working on auditing safety standards of cars on sale in the Indian market since the past three years.
While many of the mass market cars have been able to only achieve zero star ratings for adult and child protection, Global NCAP’s technical director, Alejandro Furas says, “It is particularly saddening to see the treatment some global automotive OEMs give to the small and developing markets in their portfolio.” Furas, who was one of the key speakers at Autocar Professional’s annual webinar on automotive and road safety on May 8, was referring to the results of the Chevrolet Enjoy and the Ford Figo Aspire, both of which come from global OEMs, but showed poorer performance than expected. While the Enjoy failed to score any star rating, the Aspire received 3 stars due to the presence of dual airbags as standard fitment.
In November 2016, Global NCAP had crashtested the Tata Zest compact sedan. The standard non-airbag version resulted in a disappointing zero-star score for adult occupant protection and one star for child occupant protection. Tata Motors introduced a structural improvement to the entire Zest range while Global NCAP tested the new version with optional airbags.
The Zest with two airbags and two pretensioners showed very substantial improvements and, together with the seatbelt reminder in the driver seat, the Zest achieved an impressive four-star score in adult occupant protection. Tata also selected other child restraint systems for the airbag version, improving the rear seat child occupant protection to 2 stars.
With the response time taken from Tata Motors being very little, Furas believes that the local Indian manufacturers do have the knowledge, as well as the technology and can very well out-do the global players, when it comes to incorporating a change for the betterment of the products. “Indian industry has the capacity to react fast and in a very efficient manner, says Furas. “It has the capability to build safe cars, to bring safer cars to the market. Global platforms can offers systems that drive safety. More and more use of global platforms help safety initiatives.”
Global NCAP also believes that with consistent improvement in the competencies of India’s home grown OEs, the country is bound to become safer in terms of automotive safety, much earlier than others and unlike Mexico, which still have a lot of catching up to do.
Speed thrills but also kills
Like the world over, aiming for fewer accidents will also mean a much-welcome reduction in the number of fatalities and injured people. It is in this context that UN Secretary General’s special envoy for road safety, Jean Todt comment about the need for responsible driving makes eminent sense. “This year, the United Nations Road Safety Week is dedicated to addressing the issue of speeding. Every day, 3,500 lives are lost on to world roads; 500 of them are children. We know that over speeding is one of the main causes of all road fatalities. The result is devastation for the families and loved ones involved. For car occupants, in a crash with an impact speed of 80kph, the likelihood of death is 20 times what it would have been at an impact speed of 30kph. So, when on the road, always respect the speed limit and slow down. Think of others, think of yourself. Slow down, save lives.”
This advice comes from a true-blue aficionado of speed. Jean Todt, who was first a rally driver, went into motorsport management, subsequently managing the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team and then CEO of the Italian supercar manufacturer.