Road and vehicle safety have been in the spotlight following the recent death of Cyrus Mistry, one of India’s leading corporate titans, in a car crash. Several factors, including possibly faulty road infrastructure design, human error, and over speeding are believed to be behind the crash. However, the death of both rear seat passengers, including Mistry’s, has been linked primarily to the non-use of rear seat belts. As it happens, both front seat passengers who had on their seat belts survived.

This is perhaps the most high-profile accident in India’s poor road and vehicle safety record. Official statistics show that over 155,000 lives were lost in road fatalities in 2021, the highest recorded in a calendar year, with road accidents being implicated as the country’s leading cause of accidental deaths.

According to a World Bank report, the costs and consequences of such high accident fatality rates – India accounts for only 1% of the world’s vehicles but is responsible for almost 11% road accident deaths – are staggering. Nearly three quarters of these deaths are of people who are in the productive working ages of between 18-45 years, vulnerable pedestrians and two-wheelers represent around half the deaths, while road accidents cost India around 3% of its GDP annually.

To learn more about the most recent trends in passenger, road, and vehicle safety in India, please access our research report on Indian Passenger Vehicle Outlook, 2022, our forthcoming report on the Indian ADAS Market, or contact sathyanarayanak@frost.com for information on a private briefing.

The Road Ahead: Proactive Policies, Effective Implementation, and Mindset Change

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that road traffic crashes claim around 1.3 million lives annually. The United Nations General Assembly has set an ambitious target of halving the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2030.

Similarly, the Indian government has committed to halving the number of road deaths by 2025. In 2010, the Union Cabinet approved the National Road Safety Policy which recommends comprehensive policy initiatives to enhance road safety.  These are aimed at ensuring safer road infrastructure, safer vehicles, safer drivers, protection of vulnerable road users, and more effective implementation of road safety laws, among others.

A WHO report states that seatbelt use lowers the risk of death by almost 45-50% for drivers and front seat occupants and by 25% for rear seat passengers. Unfortunately, what not many are aware of is that seat belt use for all car occupants is compulsory in India. Rule 138 (3) of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules makes it is mandatory for all vehicle occupants – whether in the front or rear – to wear seat belts. Driving without a seat belt is punishable by a Rs 1,000 fine with the possibility of the car and driving license being seized.

However, the seat belt mandate for rear seat passengers has never been strictly enforced. Following Mistry’s death, in addition to rigorously implementing seatbelt usage for all vehicle occupants, the government has also declared that carmakers will need to install alarms for rear seat belts.

Meanwhile, airbags – another critical safety feature in vehicles that function as a supplement to seat belts – are also under the lens. In India, two airbags for the front seat passenger/driver are already obligatory. Now, a six air bag rule has been made mandatory for all new cars manufactured from October 1, 2022, which has invited some degree of pushback from Indian automakers due to the cost impact on mass market cars and, in turn, the purchase decision of customers in a price sensitive market like India.

“Although the government has emphasized proactive measures by mandating passive safety features such as airbags and seat belts and active safety features such as ABS, Frost & Sullivan recommends focusing on ADAS features such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) and Forward Collision Warning (FCW) that are proven to be effective in preventing crashes,” notes Kamalesh Mohanarangam, Mobility Research Manager at Frost & Sullivan.

Secondly, safety features alone are not sufficient to save lives. The vehicle’s body structure should be able to absorb energy in the event of the crash and deflect it away from the passenger cabin. The soon-to-be implemented Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP), which is similar to the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) of developed countries, will rate cars on various parameters such as structural integrity, adult and child passenger safety, and other safety features and is expected to push OEMs to offer safer vehicles.

Lastly, the most important factor that the government needs to focus on is the strict implementation of guidelines and norms set by the Indian Roads Congress. This will help in homogenizing infrastructure across the country and will pave the way for the adoption of higher levels of autonomy in the Indian market. The government needs to take the right decisions and only mandate features that are proven to save lives as indiscriminate mandates will increase the cost of the vehicle and potentially affect the entire automotive industry.

But all such policy efforts will fall short unless there is greater awareness about the criticality of passenger safety features in cars. Currently, safety is not a primary consideration for most consumers when purchasing a car. The focus is on price and on other nice-to-have features.

Mistry’s untimely death has been a wakeup call – it has prompted the government to be more proactive in enforcing active safety features and has forced consumers and automakers to be more responsible in implementing safety features in vehicles, thereby ensuring improved passenger safety.

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About Deexeta Mohan Kumar

Deexeta has five years of automotive industry experience in Product Research and Development, Quality Control, Validation Testing, Market Research, and Consulting domains. She is currently working as a Mobility Research Analyst for ADAS and Autonomous Vehicle technologies at Frost & Sullivan, tracking the latest technology and market trends for ADAS/AD applications.

Deexeta Mohan Kumar

Deexeta has five years of automotive industry experience in Product Research and Development, Quality Control, Validation Testing, Market Research, and Consulting domains. She is currently working as a Mobility Research Analyst for ADAS and Autonomous Vehicle technologies at Frost & Sullivan, tracking the latest technology and market trends for ADAS/AD applications.

Amrita Shetty

Amrita Shetty is Communications & Content Senior Manager within Frost & Sullivan's Mobility practice.

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