India has the world’s worst road-safety record. An incredible number of people lose their lives every hour on our roads. We’re not even considering those who may be injured or even those accidents which go unreported. The situation is alarming. And in a country where most of the population is under the age of 30, with more access to cars than ever, the likelihood of these numbers going up is quite high. The first step to any major change, of course, is awareness. To that effect, Mercedes-Benz has launched Safe Roads, a pro-safety campaign that it has been conducting across the country since early last year. On October 5 and 6, Safe Roads event was held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad, to help inculcate a culture of road safety among the students.
The event was officially opened by Parthiv Shah, VP CAE for Safety, Aero and Thermal, Mercedes-Benz with a quick presentation on the current scenario and the need for road safety. He then introduced Matthias Struck, Head Communications Safety Research and Development, Mercedes-Benz Cars, who shared an impassioned view on the collaborative work being done to make cars safer. The event was then thrown open to the students of the university, local dignitaries and members of the local media. As was the case with Kochi, the Seat Belt Convincer experience got a lot of attention. Most couldn’t believe the impact a low-speed crash at 10kph could deliver. After almost knocking off a few pairs of spectacles (all were caught safely), the grins of those dismounting showed that the Seat Belt Convincer was quite effective at its job. The crashed Mercedes-Benz GLC too received its fair share of attention. It’s not often that one gets to see a Mercedes-Benz that was crashed on purpose. What had visitors amazed was that despite a crash against an offset deformable barrier at 64kph, the passenger cabin was completely unaffected. No wonder the GLC scored full marks in safety tests. To understand how the GLC managed to do well, all one had to do was walk over to the Body-in-White, which displayed the types and strengths of material used in various colours, and the sophistication employed in the design and development of Mercedes-Benz cars. And this was without any of the cutting-edge passive and active safety systems that these cars come with. For those, there was an S-class which showcased nearly the full arsenal of Mercedes-Benz safety systems. It also offered a glimpse into the future of vehicular safety. Eliciting laughs and clearly explaining the effects of inebriation on vision, spatial awareness and slowed reactions were alcohol goggles.
“Why did Mercedes-Benz choose India for Safe Roads?” As Parthiv and Matthias sat down for a quick discussion, this was the first question that Parthiv asked Matthias. “We have a long tradition, more than 75 years of safety development for Mercedes-Benz in Germany. It is our mission to spread this message about safety all over the world. Looking into the accident statistics, we do see, a decreasing trend in road-accident fatalities in western countries. For instance, in Germany from more than 20,000 fatalities per year in the ’70s, to about 3,500 today; which is an amazing success. When we looked at worldwide statistics, we found that in emerging markets, for instance, India, we see an increasing trend in fatalities. For us, it was time to act and do something against it.” A good initiative, undoubtedly, but Parthiv countered that by mentioning that less than 1% of Indians drive a Mercedes-Benz. How would an event like this help the rest of the population? “That is a very personal question for me. I’m very passionate about road safety. For me, it’s not about bringing safety to a country where we sell our cars. It something to give back to everyone in the country. We are doing business in India, and we feel responsible for the entire community. I’ve personally worked in the field of passive safety for over 15 years, and I know that with just simple measures, everybody can improve on safety even if they’re not driving Mercedes-Benz.” Simple habits like wearing the seat belt every time you’re in the car, regardless of whether you sit in the front or in the back. Seat belts are still considered, and very rightly so, to be the number one life-saving device in any car. Airbags are a supplementary restraint system (hence the words SRS on them), and they work in conjunction with seat belts to save you from harm during an accident. Yes, seat belts are still the most important safety feature in any car. Despite making their use mandatory, road fatalities in India continue to grow. Parthiv had this to say when asked what challenges India faced and how OEMs and governments could help tackle them, “India is an emerging market and is still struggling with basic safety. Most fatalities are caused by driver error – over-speeding, over-loading, load protruding and drunken driving. Fatalities also occur due to a lack of basic safety equipment in cars.
Governments can have the right set of laws to protect against road fatalities and more importantly, enforce them. The other thing they can do is work on road and junction design. As an OEM, it is important for us to bring a car in the market with these systems, namely seat belt with pre-tensioner and load limiter, the airbag, ESP and ABS. That’s not all. An OEM can also contribute to education, like with the Safe Roads initiative. We wanted to create safety ambassadors and hope that the message multiplies through them. We’ve already reached at least 7,500 students and more than 30,000 drivers through personal interactions. If you count print and social media, our message has reached about one crore individuals so far.” And it won’t end here. Next month, the Safe Roads initiative heads to Kolkata. Spread the word. And remember, drive responsibly.
Potential of Active Safety Systems in India
Each year, more than 1,40,000 road traffic fatalities occur in India – and the number is continuously increasing. At Mercedes-Benz we base all our activities on Real Life Safety and therefore kick-started several accident research activities.
One of our main initiatives in India is being a part of the Road Accident Sampling System – India (RASSI) consortium since its inception. The consortium is a pioneering initiative to collect in-depth scientific road-accident data through on-site crash investigations from various locations across India, to enable the Indian government and industry to plan and execute data-driven road-safety strategies for safer roads.
As a part of RASSI data, we investigated a total of 628 passenger-car accidents from four different sampling locations across India. Each in-depth accident report consists of about 700 variables covering vehicle, human and environmental factors per accident case. For the first time in India, such accident investigation has been conducted using quality controlled and therefore statistically reliable accident data.
Investigations of the sample cases showed that in 55% of the accidents, there were no accident avoidance manoeuvres from the drivers – there was braking action only (with or without tyre lock-up) in 30% of the accidents. Second-most important was a combination of brake and swerve manoeuvres in 10% and other avoidance manoeuvres in 5% of the accidents.
The Indian Government has recognised the great potential of Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). Mercedes-Benz set a historic milestone in active safety with the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) and countries like Germany are reaping benefits of ESP. Making ABS and ESP mandatory on all vehicles would be a significant step towards safety. These safety systems can ensure proper braking, while maintaining steerability.
As the Head of Accident Research activities at Mercedes-Benz R&D India, I understand the importance of the accident phase prior to a collision. The rationale is to identify situations where the driver needs assistance. Whenever there is no reaction from the driver or an ineffective collision avoidance manoeuvre, radar-based safety systems could come in to play in order to assist the driver. On Indian highways, several driver-caused accidents can be found, for example, drivers falling asleep, inattentive drivers manoeuvring lane changes or misjudging the position and speed of other road users.
The issue is so serious that 5% of the highway roads account to 63% of the road fatalities with the above causation factors being extremely common.
Mercedes-Benz radar-based systems like Collision Prevention Assist (CPA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Brake Assist System Plus (BAS Plus) could address the above causation factors and help reduce these kinds of accidents. However, the seat-belt itself remains the number one life saver!
Parthiv Shah, VP CAE for Safety, Aero and Thermal, Mercedes-Benz