First Crush, Perhaps The Last?

Sunday, August 16, 2015 Life

An article on road safety and road accidents

Everyone in India has a crush on owning a car, at least on a loan. But are the cars that are sold in India worth the money consumers pay? We don’t think so! Continue reading to find out why we say so.

My son drives car better than anyone else, but he hasn't made his way home. We are still waiting!

This was the mourning of my friend’s parents who lost him to a road accident.

The recently launched Maruti Suzuki S-Cross was found crushed like a coke can in an accident, leaving all its occupants dead because the airbag malfunctioned. Every time I see a car in accident that has been damaged badly and with casualties, I always feel as if the cars were made out of Coke can like sheet metal. The accidents are usually very bad that with almost all of the occupants either severely hurt or dead. An ultimate purpose of an automobile is to save its occupants in case of a collision, but the purpose is always forgotten in India!

Why talk about India alone? That’s because the statistics show that almost 238,562 people have lost their lives in 2013 alone to car accidents. You can only imagine the situation now. Car sales have recovered from negative growth rate, driven by new launches and entry of many global car giants; it is the customer who has been spoilt for choice. Two thirds of Indian car sales come from sub-5 Lakh Rupees segment in which safety has not been given a priority at all; sometimes not even as an option.

For instance, the country’s largest selling car “Maruti Suzuki Alto” scored a paltry zero stars out of five and doesn’t even get necessary safety features like Airbags and ABS as an option. According to Global NCAP, the structural rigidity of the car is very low that addition of airbags won’t make a significant difference.  But, the same cars that are being made in India are being exported to Algeria with airbags and ABS. Also, the Indians make of the popular Maruti Suzuki Swift scored zero stars in Global NCAP while the same car (made from the Hungarian plant though!) made for Europe scored full Five Stars!

The list doesn’t stop here. Some of the popular cars including Ford Figo, Maruti Suzuki Alto & Swift, and Hyundai i10, Tata Nano, Datsun Go, Hyundai Eon and Toyota Etios and  Volkswagen were the first to react to this issue by making Dual airbags as a standard fitment across all variants. It has also sent the car back to the testing agency and passed the test with flying colours! It did score a healthy 4 stars out of 5! Toyota was the next to react to this issue by making airbags as standard on all its cars irrespective of the variants.

The head of Global NCAP has written a personal letter to Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor Company stating that Datsun Go has failed to meet UN safety norms for crash test and that it should be taken off the shelves! But, some other car manufacturers turned a deaf ear towards this issue by stating that their cars meet the Indian safety norms. By adding safety features like ABS, Airbags, and ESC they can escalate the final price of the car, thereby encouraging people to use two-wheelers instead of cars. Also, those companies have stated that Indian road conditions does not match with that of the European and American standards and so the average speed is significantly lower. But those companies forgot the fact that India has laid some of the impressive highways in recent times that has led to a significant increase in driving speeds.

An extra piece of information is that frontal crash tests are performed at a speed of 64kmph and not at triple digit speeds. Come on, don’t we see cars going over 64kmph speed?  Driving at the mentioned speed on highways is often referred to as crawling!

Even if you own a car with all safety features loaded to the brim, one cannot assure that those will save you because of the pathetic quality levels. The Mahindra XUV500 top-variant which retails at prices upwards 13 lakhs cannot save its passengers, even though there were no deaths but serious injuries. The side airbags failed to deploy when the car rolled over.

This issue cannot only be blamed on the car manufacturers, but also on the mindset of an average Indian car buyer. A survey shows that Indians are willing to spend even around 10-15% of the car’s price for entertainment features, but they are not willing to spend the same for safety features! They can argue that driving properly alone can save them from accidents, but they must be educated that faults need not necessarily be on their side alone! 

The above incident shows that an Audi Q3 collided head on with a Maruti Eco. Though it wasn’t the fault of Eco’s driver, all the occupants were left dead but those on the Audi were saved. I’m not comparing apples to oranges but at least either shouldn’t be rotten as well!

Let me cite one more incident showcasing that even though if you are travelling in Mercedes Benz S-Class, you will be hurt if you don’t wear the seatbelt in case of an accident! The Mercedes Benz S-Class is considered to be one of the safest cars in the world. The veteran actress Hema Malini’s car collided with an Alto leaving the occupants dead.

The Indian government has also initiated a few steps towards making Indian roads better by making crash test mandatory from 2017 and awarding them based on the test results. A crash test center has also been inaugurated recently by the government of India for the manufacturers to make use of.  But Indian auto giants are trying to water down the norms by arguing that crash tests should be performed at speeds of 57kmph and not at 64kmph, dirty politics and profits huh?

Where are we heading to……..?