India crash-test standards: Car safety, design to get priority under new body

Written by Anil Sasi | New Delhi | Updated: Oct 27 2014, 16:48pm hrs
Car crash testAt present, vehicle makers in India are not required to meet the UN basic crash-test standards, which is mandatory in markets across the world.
Carmakers in India would be forced to recalibrate their focus on safety, with the Vehicle Regulation and Road Safety Authority of India an independent agency proposed in the draft Road Transport and Safety Bill expected to wield the stick on issues such as standards for the design and construction of passenger cars.

Also, from next year, the Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program is expected to be rolled out, under which the safety of passengers would be assessed by testing cars in front-on and side-on crashes.

India currently does not have a new car assessment programme to provide buyers with independent reports of vehicles crash safety and vehicle makers are not required to meet the United Nations basic crash-test standards, something that is mandatory in markets across the world.

The two measures assume significance in light of a random crash test conducted by an independent agency in January this year, where three cars out of the five cars failed the front impact crash tests on account of basic structural deficiencies in the body.

This is even as a variant of one of these car models that is sold in the European market was found to be carrying the highest rating safety certification offered by the same agency in similar crash tests conducted on cars sold in the European Union.

In January 2014, the UK-based Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) had tested five of Indias bestselling compact cars for their safety features.

The Hyundai i10, along with Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 and Tata Nano, were found to have inadequate vehicle structures that collapsed to varying degrees, resulting in high risks of life-threatening injuries to the occupants.

Hyundais i10 had a five-star NCAP certification in the UK (this car has now been replaced with the Grand i10 in Europe).

The Ford Figo and Volkswagen Polo also received zero points for adult protection ratings in a frontal impact at 64 km/hour.

NCAP, however, noted that these two cars had structures that remained stable and, therefore, with airbags fitted, protection for the driver and front passenger would be much improved.

The explanation offered by carmakers for going easy on safety is that norms prescribed in the country do not stipulate airbags or specific standards on reinforcement of vehicle structures, as opposed to the stringent norms followed in markets such as the US, EU or even ASEAN.

Hyundai vehicles are designed and built to meet all the prescribed safety standards set by Indian Regulatory Authorities, the company had said an email in response to a query on the safety issue.

A Volkswagen spokesperson said its cars made in India at its Chakan facility are identical in build quality and structural integrity parameters in comparison to cars rolling out of its other facilities across the world.

The Global NCAP tests were carried out on the entry-level versions of these five car models, which did not have air bags.

The powers for the Vehicle Regulation and Road Safety Authority of India to specify safety standard for vehicle makers, as proposed in the draft Road Transport and Safety Bill, is alongside powers to recall motor vehicles in case of any deviation from norms.

This includes the authority ot act on complaints by 100 or more people reporting a defect in a particular model of a vehicle to the authority or if a model does not comply with the provisions and standards prescribed under the Act.

The procedure for recall will be laid out by regulations by the Centre. For faulty manufacturing design, a fine of Rs 5 lakh a vehicle, along with imprisonment, has been proposed.

CRASH TEST

* The draft Road Transport and Safety Bill has proposed a Vehicle Regulation and Road Safety Authority

* India currently does not have a new car assessment programme to provide buyers with independent reports of vehicles crash safety

* The measures assume significance in light of a random crash test conducted in January this year, where several cars sold in India had structural deficiencies