As advanced safety regulations start coming into force starting October 2017 onwards, Maruti Suzuki’s R&D head CV Raman says that the use of the humble seatbelt becomes even more critical. “The cause for concern is that India’s performance on seatbelt usage is shockingly low. So, while advanced safety features will help, we need to follow basic safety habits too,” he says. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he adds that increased road safety requires efforts in multiple areas—enforcement, awareness, licensing, quality driving training, road design and trauma care. Excerpts:
New safety norms for passenger vehicles will become applicable starting October this year. What changes can we expect?
The new safety norms in India have been decided by the ministry of road transport and highways, based on best practices across the world, and are at a par with those in Europe. These are designed to minimise injuries to car occupants, as well as pedestrians, in the event of a crash. All the cars launched after October will mandatorily have to meet these norms. But existing car models have time till October 2019 before they are equipped with advanced safety features. Maruti Suzuki, I must add, has made six of its models compliant to these norms, with the aim that 80% of our models must meet advanced safety norms at least a year before these are implemented.
How can the industry ensure these norms are followed?
The challenge is to meet future safety norms without compromising on performance, fuel efficiency and comfort, all of which are important to the customer. It would have been straightforward to simply load equipment like airbags and anti-lock braking systems on a vehicle to make it safety compliant, but that would have increased vehicle weight significantly. Therefore, innovation is important. For example, at Maruti Suzuki, we have designed new vehicle platforms (which form the base of the vehicle) that are lighter, but due to the use of advanced materials are also rigid and strong. Besides innovation, the new safety norms require sizeable R&D investments, capable engineers and, of course, multiple rounds of testing and evaluation.
What kind of testing does Maruti do?
For each model, we crash 35-40 cars at our R&D centre in Rohtak, Haryana, and closely study the injury impact on dummy passengers using embedded sensors.
Adding safety features also leads to higher vehicle cost…
We believe customers will be willing to pay extra for safety. So far, we’ve had safety norms based on Indian conditions. But it is the vision of the government to take Indian automobile industry to world-class safety. This vision is ably supported by industry association SIAM, automobile companies and component makers. I am sure customers will also support this effort.
To what extent can such norms bring down road fatalities?
Advanced safety in vehicles is expected to help bring down road fatalities by minimising injuries to occupants and pedestrians. However, road safety requires efforts in multiple areas—enforcement, awareness, licensing, quality driving training, road design and trauma care. Only when all of these are addressed in a holistic manner that we can solve the road fatalities issue. For example, the most important safety feature ever invented for a car still remains the old faithful seatbelt. All the multiple airbags in a car are useless and, in fact, may cause injuries if the occupants are not belted (including on the rear-seat). The cause for concern is that India’s performance on seatbelt usage is shockingly low. So, while advanced safety features will help, we need to follow basic safety habits too.
What happens to existing cars?
India has had safety norms for many years and all existing cars meet them. At Maruti, we have been offering an airbag option with all variants of most of our models, inviting customers to choose safer options. The response of customers has so far been mixed. As new safety norms become mandatory, that issue will get resolved.