The year 2022 has come to an end. The second half of 2022 had its own share of road accidents, some of them extremely fatal, some of them tragic, horrific and scary.
Four friends travelling in a BMW car on a highway in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh en route to Delhi, at speeds as high as 230 kmph rammed into a container truck. The driver and his friends were determined to breach the 300 kmph mark (which the luxury car could have achieved on a race track), but lost control of the car. All four died instantly.
In September 2022, Cyrus Mistry, former Tata Sons Chairman, was killed in a road accident when he was travelling from Ahmedabad to Mumbai in a Mercedes car. Mistry was travelling in a Mercedes GLC sport utility vehicle sitting in the rear seat. The car tried to overtake another vehicle from the wrong side when it hit a road divider on a bridge. Both the rear seat passengers including Mistry who died were not wearing a seat belt and the vehicle was being at speeds above 100kmph.
On December 30, 2022 in the wee hours of the morning, Indian cricketer Rishabh Pant barely managed to escape a high-speed highway crash in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar district. The Mercedes SUV he was driving, reportedly hit a road divider, turned upside down and burst into flames. The injured Pant narrowly escaped when a bus driver and a few others pulled him out of the blaze at the nick of time.
All three cars that were involved in the accidents above are safe cars and may have got five stars in Global NCAP or Euro NCAP crash ratings for safe cars. Nowadays a lot of Indian cars have been getting five stars from Global NCAP for safety.
UK based Global Ncap have been rating Indian cars for their post crash safety for the last few years. This institution has been getting popular with their ratings and some of the winners have been celebrating the five stars they have been getting for their cars.
In its latest test results, Mahindra Scorpio-N received a five star safety rating while three popular models from Maruti Suzuki scored only a dismal one star each. The results, complying with Global NCAP’s new and more demanding crash test protocols were published in the #SaferCarsForIndia campaign on Dec 12, 2022, supported by the FIA Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Global NCAP’s updated protocols assess frontal and side impact protection for all tested models, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), pedestrian protection and side impact pole protection assessments are also required for vehicles scoring the highest star ratings.
Do Global NCAP ratings make any sense in India?
Just after the Global Ncap results were out, RC Bhargava, Chariman of Maruti Suzuki and a veteran in the Indian automobile industry questioned the standards of the organisation itself. He claimed that Global NCAP is funded by airbag manufacturers among others and that putting NCAP standards into cars sold in India would have no significant impact on the number of accidents. He reiterated the fact that to prevent accidents one needs to improve road safety, fitness testing of vehicles and driver training.
He further added that the crash safety norms in India that came into effect in 2019 are based on European standards.
Should we believe Bhargava? Being a journalist for the last 35 years, I think Bhargava has hit the nail on the head. One the one hand we tom-tom about crash tests undertaken by Global Ncap, on the other we do not bother to debate on the relevance of these tests.
The three major accidents I talked about in the beginning of this report, resulted in the vehicles being destroyed beyond shape and deaths of several people. So Bhargava is not wrong when he says that we need to focus on driver training, and other equally important issues. In India, people are generally under the impression that any car that has got 5 stars in the crash test by Global Ncap is as safe as an army tank. They think that since they are now driving a tank, they can drive recklessly and get away with it. These five star rated cars can easily be reduced to a ball or be reduced to ashes, if they meet with accidents at very high speeds.
As for auto journalists writing about Global Ncap tests or praising them for their genius, that’s got to be understood. All one has to do is to take a journalist on a free ride across the world and treat them to the best of things like a free five star stay, free gifts and free food, he or she is ready to sell their soul. It’s as simple as that. Sorry to digress a bit, at Motown India, I have been urging journalists to have a code of ethics where they write an acknowledgement note at the end of their report or during their telecast that their assignment was completed thanks to a free air travel, accommodation, gifts and food from an OEM/Institution. At least the readers and viewers can then decide on the veracity of the report!
Coming to the Global NCap crash tests, most of the tests are done at speeds at which normally fatal accidents don’t take place in India. For example, the front offset deformable barrier test is conducted at 64kmph speed, while the side mobile barrier test is conducted at 50kmph. The Pole side impact test is undertaken at 29kmph and the pedestrian child head form to bonnet test is done at 40kmph. The pedestrian lower leg form to bumper test is undertaken at 40kmph. If the speed of the tests were to be raised a notch, most of the cars will fold up like a pack of cards.
In short, you cannot build a car like an army tank. Besides, the Indian government and the road safety authorities are intelligent enough to understand the nuances of road conditions in India and make laws that ensure the cars are made safe to a certain extent. We are a developing nation and we have smart and intelligent people who understand how to make cars and motorcycles. Personally, I don’t think we need a body like the Global NCap to teach us how to make cars. I understand their tests are good and it makes sense to manufacture safe cars, but whether we need to make it to their standards, is the real question.
Every winter, the temperatures plunge in many parts of North India. Farmers and rural folks cover themselves with huge blankets to protect themselves from the severe cold. But if someone were to insist that only an imported jacket from Decathlon will keep them warm, well that is a bit exaggerated.
Recently, data released by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) of the Indian government noted that road crashes in India claimed 426 lives per day or 18 every hour in 2021, making it the highest ever in a calendar year. Close to 1.56 lakh road fatalities were recorded during the year. People died mainly because they drove much beyond the speed limits, or because roads were poorly designed. And to make matters worse, you have cows and goats and other stray animals, besides people walking in the middle of the road. Bad drivers and unfortunate obstacles have caused most of the deaths in road accidents in India.
The government has laid out effective manufacturing standards for vehicle manufacturers in India. And these are made more and more stringent as we go along. If you look at our emission norms, they have only been getting better and are today at par with any developed nation. Cars manufactured by Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai Motor in India are exported to several developed countries. If our cars were an outright dud, we would not have been able to sell a single piece to Europe.
My appeal to auto journalists who love going overboard over Global Ncap ratings, is that they need to first understand the reasons for road accidents in our country. Do we need cars and two wheelers with huge power and torque in this country? It is time to be realistic and talk about all aspects of safety before hailing Global Ncap ratings. I personally think, these rating don’t mean a thing in this part of the world. In an overpopulated India, we need to talk about driver training and good driving habits. We need to talk about road safety and road conditions. We need to discuss stray animals and jaywalkers. We need to talk about non motorised vehicles, unsafe electric vehicles and dangerously loaded trucks and buses plying on our roads.
Just the other day, when I left home at 5 am in my car for some personal work, I noticed that no one bothered about stopping at a traffic light. Since there were no traffic cops so early in the morning, nobody stopped at the red light. You can also often see Indian families travelling in their cars with the child sitting on the mother’s lap in the front seat. You can also notice the occupants not wearing seatbelts in the car. You can also see every other vehicle over speeding on roads when the speed limit is an abysmally low 50kmph in the city. The moment vehicles in India approach a speed camera they slow down, but the moment they cross it, their speeds go as high as 70 or 80kmph. We need to discuss all these issues and debate on them.
As for Global NCap findings and their results on safe cars in India, these really do not make any real sense in today’s India.
Roy Punnoose Tharyan is a “born again” auto journalist who wants more truth to prevail in the field of automotive journalism. He has more than 35 years of journalistic experience in the fields of business, economic s and automotive, both B2B as well as B2C. He is an avid photographer, videographer and has mastered the skill of video editing. He does not believe in automotive awards and boring seminars. He is also the Founder Editor of Motown India.
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