Deaths in road accidents in the country numbered 148, 707 in 2015, up from 141,526 in 2014. Minimum compulsory safety standards for vehicles, thus, make eminent sense. Research shows that airbags coupled with seat-belts lower the chance of fatality by almost 80%. Therefore, it was odd that India—which accounts for largest number of road accident deaths—had never insisted that car-makers offer airbags in their vehicles until very recently. In fact, only in 2016 did it initiate policy changes making airbags, speed warning systems, reverse gear sensors and seat-belt reminders compulsory. New models of cars have to come equipped with driver-side airbags from October 2019, while a two-year relaxation was granted for older car models given these would need a structural rejig to incorporate the safety feature. But now, as per a Business Standard report, the government is unwilling to give car-makers that much time, and wants them to either have mandatory airbags in older models by April 2019—six months earlier than the original deadline—or pull these models out of the market.
The road transport ministry is likely to notify the advancing—by six months, to April 2019—of the deadline for mandatory crash norms compliance. Given compliance with both frontal- and side-crash norms requires the car to have airbags, it effectively means that the deadline for mandatory airbags has also been advanced to April 2019. This will not be the first time that the government has introduced uncertainty for car-makers—it had shifted the deadline for BS-VI emission standards compliance to April 2020, a full three years earlier than the original April 2023 deadline. Add to this the uncertainty road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari’s recent, ill-advised threat that the government will “bulldoze” manufacturers into a quick roll-out of electric vehicles has created, and the resultant damage to business sentiment—not just in the auto sector—is significant. If the government were to continue to adopt such an ad hoc manner in effecting policy changes—no matter how well-intentioned these are—it will have undermined its goal of offering a stable business ecosystem.