‘Three-fourths of vehicles delivered in our core markets by 2025 will have safety systems that surpass legal requirements’: Satyakam Arya
“It is ironic that the CV industry is the barometer of an economy, but it is still quite unregulated in India,” Arya stated.
“Always stay ahead of the curve when it comes to regulations,” said Satyakam Arya, MD and CEO, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV), while speaking about how technology can enhance safety of commercial vehicles in India.
Arya was a speaker at the Autocar Professional Road Safety Conclave, and explained that the DICV brand Bharat Benz is working on a plan that aims to deliver 75% vehicles in its core markets by 2025, and 80% by 2030, equipped with safety systems that surpasses legal requirements of the respective markets.
“It is ironic that the CV industry is the barometer of an economy, but it is still quite unregulated in India,” Arya pointed out as the key challenge behind the dismal state of safety heavy-duty trucks and buses plying on Indian roads. “The drivers who are the unsung heroes are not cared for enough,” he added.
Focusing on solutions to resolve the prevalent problems, Arya said that companies must not automatically assume that things will not work in India. “Many a time we take a stand that this will not work in India. Sometimes it is true, but mostly not. Today we (Daimler Truck) have more than 1 million trucks with active brake assist system, and we must popularise this in India,” he added.
Stressing the role of technology in preventing accidents, Arya talked about equipping commercial vehicles with driver assistance systems such as blind spot detection, and side-guard assist, so that the driver gets the required warning to avoid an accident. “These are some important safety features which we can produce on the Indian roads,” he added.
As robust infrastructure such as expressways are rapidly coming up in the country, a lot of accidents also happen on Indian roads because vehicles are normally parked alongside the highways, and therein functionalities like autonomous emergency braking can be lifesaving, while adaptive cruise control can eliminate driver fatigue. “I believe these are the things that will encourage discipline and prevent accidents from taking place,” he said.
Fast-tracking regulatory framework
When it comes to the regulations pertaining to commercial vehicles, Arya pointed out that India lags various developed markets, and has a lot of catching up to do. “Whether it is the government or customers, we have to chart a roadmap to bring all the key regulations to the Indian market in the next 5-7 years, and come at par, if not be better, with the rest of the world,” he said.
“We all took a concerted effort and leapfrogged from BS IV to BS VI emission standards in record time. The same needs to be replicated in the area of safety as well. Having said that, it must not be a knee-jerk reaction as everyone in the ecosystem needs time to introduce technology that is compatible with the Indian environment and is also competitive at the same time. We cannot forget that India is a cost-sensitive market,” Arya commented.
“If we look at the landscape of regulations when it comes to the CV industry, while we started harmonising the safety regulations in India with Europe in 2005, and brought the crash safety regulations for truck cabins in India, we did not mandate it. The result is that cowl cabins still prevail.
“When we entered the Indian market, 80% of the truck market consisted of cowls, and even today, 20-30% of the market comprises cowl trucks, despite knowing the fact that a half-built cabin with a wooden top cannot meet any safety requirements,” Arya said, adding that therefore, a lot must be done on the regulation side, and it must be the collective effort of all stakeholders.
“When it comes to crash safety, it is very important how the cabin is designed, and what kind of crash safety norms it fulfills. At Bharat Benz, we have already voluntarily transitioned our truck cabins to meet the ECE-R29-03 crash standards, in line with European standards, that focus on the crash compliance of the top half of the cabin as well,” he said.
The company, which voluntarily made ABS as standard in its offering since 2015, a rear-vision system in 2017, and a driver-state monitoring system in 2018, says that it now offers the highest level of CV safety norms prevalent in the world.
“When it comes to safety, it has been our philosophy to do what is right, not just what is mandatory,” he added.
Role of driver education and training
When it comes to the most fundamental issue of road safety – driver education and training – Arya pointed out that the country struggles in this area the most. “Driver education must begin right from the school level, and this will bring a change in the attitude towards safety. That is one area that has not been worked upon enough. While it is being done at the CSR level at various organisations, it must become mainstream,” he stated.
“We have a training centre in our factory which develops ‘master-drivers’ who are sent across the country to train other drivers. We also train customers’ drivers. To accelerate the pace of driver training, we have created a simulated driver-trainer curriculum with 27 modules that have varying applications and road scenarios. It has AI and curates a training program, it is multi-lingual too,” Arya said.
“For commercial vehicle drivers to take pride in their profession, we must provide them safer vehicles and a safe environment for them,” Arya added while saying that air-conditioning in truck cabins is deeply linked to safety, as one of the leading causes of accidents involving trucks is driver fatigue.
“We should not think of air conditioning as a comfort feature, but also as a safety feature. Bharat
Benz trucks have been offering air-conditioned cabins as an option in all our trucks since our foray in
India. While in the beginning, only 30% of consumers asked for air-conditioned trucks, today more than 65% of our sales are of air-conditioned trucks, as fleet owners have come to realise that it improves driver productivity. It also helps with the hearing issues that most drivers develop in their right ears due to the continuous wind blast in a non-AC cabin,” Arya said.
“We must change our attitude towards safety, and must think about doing what is not yet mandated, but beyond,” Arya said, and summarised his talk, by saying that in terms of technological interventions, there are four key pillars of ensuring safety in commercial vehicles – technology to enhance safety, technologies that avoid a crash, crash protection and how to reduce the intensity of a crash, and lastly, post-crash response system, and trauma care.
“Everyone involved in the ecosystem – government, regulators, OEMs, fleet owners, and drivers – have a very important role to play when it comes to safety. We must become a global benchmark in safety when it comes to Indian roads,” Arya signed off.
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