How to make Indian cars safe again

New Delhi | Published: January 19, 2019 1:23:00 AM

While airbags, ABS, speed limit indicators have been mandated for all new vehicles, ESC and autonomous braking are expected to be incorporated by 2022-23

automobile sector, automobile industryUnderstanding the severity and the need of safety features in a car, the government has pushed for making certain norms mandatory from 2019 onwards, like airbags and speed limit indicators.

By Rajendra Petkar

Ever since the birth of cars, the parameters of automobile safety have evolved constantly. Manufacturers recognised the significance of safety innovations like headrests, laminated windscreens and padded dashboards, to name a few. Today, all automotive products come built-in with these, thus these becoming bare necessities.

Approaching global standards

India, one of the world’s fastest growing auto markets, is transforming itself to match safety standards of developed countries. Passenger safety occupies a prime spot in the sector. To protect passengers and pedestrians, stakeholders across the automobile value chain are upgrading their offerings to provide fail-safe safety technologies.

Automobile safety is branched under two avenues: active safety and passive safety. Global carmakers have made major advancements in both through connected mobility. Active safety systems play a preventive role in mitigating crashes and accidents by providing advance warnings or by offering additional assistance in manoeuvring the vehicle through technologies like heads-up display (HUD), anti-lock braking system (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC). On the other hand, passive safety systems are vital in containing the damage caused to occupants and pedestrians in accidents through seatbelts, airbags, headrests/whiplash protection systems, crumple zones and collapsible steering systems.

Progressing hand in hand

According to SIAM, the Indian auto industry produced 23,861,485 vehicles between April and December 2018. To cater to this monumental number, our respective ministries are fortifying the country’s road network and traffic systems, to curb reckless driving and resultant mishaps.

While manufacturers are focused on providing safety features to customers, the ministry of road transport and highways is taking steps to prevent road accidents and fatalities:

* Approval of the National Road Safety Policy outlines measures such as promoting awareness, establishing road safety information database, and encouraging safer road infrastructure including application of intelligent transport and enforcement of safety laws;

* Introduction of the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill 2017, covering the entire gamut of road safety;

* Tightening of safety standards for vehicles like seatbelts, ABS, etc, and setting up of the requisite infrastructure to enable testing and certification of safety critical components through its NATRiP project.

Treading the road to safety

Understanding the severity and the need of safety features in a car, the government has pushed for making certain norms mandatory from 2019 onwards, like airbags and speed limit indicators. Also, the government’s blueprint for crash tests has mandated all new car launches from October last year onwards to be fitted with dual airbags. For existing brands, the same yardstick comes into force soon. At the SIAM annual convention, the government had announced it is adding Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) as a mandate for all cars by 2022.

At Tata Motors’ Engineering Research Centre, we are progressively investing in R&D for ADAS and connected vehicle technologies. We are likely to embrace connected, electric and shared technology soon, so it’s essential we remain at the forefront of these developments. With the UK centre of excellence in design and engineering for Tata Motors PV business in India, Tata Motors European Technical Centre (TMETC) plans to focus its learning and future developments on controlled road environments. Recently, TMETC participated in the UK Autodrive project and completed successful demonstration of the latest mobility technology (self-driving) on Tata Hexa.

The importance of crash tests

Tata Motors was the first OEM to invest in a crash test facility in 1997, a time when there were no crash-testing benchmarks in India. Today, our in-house crash test facilities deploy specialists using advanced simulation tools to optimise safety performance of our vehicles.

In the last few years, stakeholders have undertaken many initiatives to introduce norms that would help India progress on the path of safety. #SaferCarsForIndia was one such campaign launched by the Global New Car Assessment Programme (Global NCAP) in 2014, with the objective of promoting safer vehicles and the establishment of Bharat NCAP.

It’s also encouraging that carmakers in India are increasingly and willingly inviting Global NCAP to test their cars. At Tata Motors, our journey with Global NCAP has been a great learning experience: from initial teething stages to a 4-star rating for the Zest, and finally a full 5-star with the Nexon—the first and only car in India to achieve 5-star rating.

The way forward

While features like ABS, automatic headlights in two-wheelers, and new bonnet designs to reduce impact on pedestrians during accidents have been mandated for all new vehicles, ESC and autonomous emergency braking are expected to be incorporated as well between 2022 and 2023.

As we move towards EVs and hybrids, there will be new challenges. The presence of high voltage in vehicles will itself pose a challenge with respect to occupant safety. And due to different engine bay packaging and addition of battery packs, management of crash energy and load paths may drive structural changes. But the real challenge lies in introducing affordable, yet maximum, safety features and yet avoiding vehicle prices from increasing drastically. Currently, Indian companies import most of the latest safety features; local suppliers are yet to equip themselves with the required technologies for localisation. Steel of high strength grade is not yet locally available, but suppliers have begun working proactively to bridge this gap.

With all bodies lining up to work towards a common agenda, we are optimistic to achieve the common vision of a ‘Safe Bharat’ soon.

The author is chief technology officer, Tata Motors Ltd

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