Indian road safety issues need Indian solutions and not merely keeping up with the West.
We are third time lucky. After slipping in 2014 and 2017, we finally have our own Bharat NCAP. However, it is not mandatory. Hang on, so what about the six airbags that all automakers were working on to meet the October 01, 2023 deadline? Not required, as the number of airbags will have an impact on the ratings. But then, typically the entry-level variants are tested and they will have only two airbags. Also, an automaker may decide not to send a single vehicle for the NCAP tests. Confusion confounds all.
Will Indian roads be safe at last? No; because road safety is not a function of only one element – the vehicle. It is a collective and coordinated functioning of all elements in the entire mobility ecosystem, which, in tandem, will ensure that roads are finally safe. Road design, build quality, enforcement of traffic laws, awareness about the basics of traffic management, and effective emergency services in case of an accident need to work hand-in-hand with safer vehicles to bring both accidents and fatalities down. Multiple airbags and ABS are of no use if seat belts are not used and helmets are not worn.
Vehicles are the most convenient target, so we have safety regulations for them first. And even that took more than 15 years to arrive since they were first proposed, as the automakers could not come to a consensus, led by personal agendas. However, the weakest link in Bharat NCAP is that it is voluntary. It should have been made mandatory for all automakers, not just to have each product tested but also prominently mention the star rating on the vehicle, in every piece of communication, physical and digital. After all, if the powers that be can mandate a star rating for an appliance’s energy efficiency, they certainly can for a vehicle’s crash safety.
Indian road safety issues need Indian solutions and not merely keeping up with the West. If we are implementing a crash safety programme, it needs to be mandated, as public awareness alone will not drive it like it does in the West. Also, our regulations need to cover crucial aspects, like the use of seat belts and helmets, without which the vehicle will not operate. Enforcement of the no-bull-bar rule and even a crackdown on folks standing up through sunroofs need to be implemented. Harsh on-ground realities need to be tackled rather than the sterilised test mechanisms of an NCAP.
Finally, a safer vehicle will be of no use without a safer road. Every year, we lose approximately 1.5 lakh Indians to road accidents, and now that Bharat NCAP is finally out, it is time to announce and implement a National Road Safety Rating. Starting with national highways and state highways, roads need to be audited on aspects of design, carpet quality, furniture, warning systems, signage, maintenance, water dissipation and emergency help. Use public recognition, reward and rebuke to get things moving. Only then can we stand up and clap with both hands, and be proud in becoming a 5-trillion-dollar economy without a hundred and fifty thousand fewer people to celebrate the landmark with!
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