What are the essential safety features that your car must have? This was a question we asked officials of Mercedes Benz India, when we met them as part of their safety programme – Safe Roads.
Mercedes Benz has launched a CSR initiative to create road safety awareness in India, by demonstrating its cars active and passive safety features through a road show across six cities in India. The programme aims to spread awareness for road safety, by showing people what these features can do – such as seat belt pre-tensioners, belt bags that inflate to help prevent injury from seat belts, multiple air bags, inflatable side impact beams etc.
However, there’s a cost involved with each additional safety feature. And India being a pretty price conscious country where buyers skimp on safety features just to save a few thousand rupees, we thought it wise to list out for you – from the experts themselves – what are the key safety features every car should have.
We spoke to Jochen Feese, head of accident research at Mercedes Benz cars and Manu Saale, managing director and CEO, Mercedes Benz R&D India for what this list. Here’s what they had to say.
1. A rigid passenger cell
Feese says that the passenger cell should form a cage around the occupants and not crumple or deform on impact. If you recall, Global NCAP had conducted crash tests on cars made in India and found structural deformity in at least three cars. A rigid passenger cell is a life saver.
Our take: A rigid passenger cell is a basic safety requirement. Unfortunately, cars such as the Datsun Go, Tata Nano, Alto 800 and even the Swift (without airbags) showed structural deformity in a 64 kmph crash test by Global NCAP.
2. Crumple zones
You wonder why many cars these days have body panels that feel wafer thin? Well, they are a part of the crumple zone – the fenders, front chassis members, rear chassis members and cross beams that are meant to bend on impact to direct energy away from the passenger cabin, taking the brunt of the impact themselves. So while the speed of a crash may not seem severe, many times the car looks far more crumpled because of these crumple zones that absorb impact.
Our take: Crumple zones may make the car seem really delicate, but are an essential part of safety. The new Honda City and Amaze seem like they are built with wafer thin metal, when in fact, this plays an essential part in the crumple zones of these cars.
3. Seat belts
Seat belts are the most important restraining systems in the car. Manu Saale cites a statistic that only 2 per cent of the car occupants in India use seat belts all the time, even though the law mandates compulsory seat belt use for front seat occupants (we recommend that all occupants use seat belts in the car, at all times). Even simple seat belts can help prevent occupants from being thrown forward or out of a vehicle in the event of a crash.
Our take: Thankfully, seat belts are mandated by law in India, and it is compulsory for the front seat occupants (driver and passenger) to belt up. We wish this law would extend to rear seat passengers as well. However, even with the law in place, not everyone belts up – and this is a prime reason for many of the fatalities in India.
4. Air bags
Unfortunately, in India airbags have not yet become mandatory despite the dismal crash test results on some Indian cars by Global NCAP. Airbags can be life savers – they are supplementary restraint systems that deploy to cushion the impact for an occupant, reducing chances of fatal injuries, as seat belts can only do so much. Feese says airbags have to be made mandatory in all cars. Also read: Airbags and ABS – pros and cons
Our take: After the Global NCAP results, Indian authorities have begun considering making airbags and crash tests mandatory for all cars, but only by 2017. However, the automobile lobby wants crash tests done at much lower speeds of 24 kmph instead of 56 kmph or 64 kmph as is the international standard, which will defeat the purpose really of getting safer cars.
5. Driver assistance systems and vehicle maintenance
Manu Saale and Feese think that some driver aids such as ABS and lane change warnings could be critical in helping avoid accidents in the first place, and should be offered in more cars. Feese also thinks that one of the primary reasons for the 1.34 lakh deaths in road accidents in India are because of poor vehicle maintenance. He says more stringent steps need to be taken to ensure that all vehicles meet certain minimum standards.
Our take: ABS should also be made mandatory for cars and motorcycles in India as many road accidents are caused due to the inability of a driver to avoid an obstacle with brakes locked. For more expensive cars, laser-guided automatic braking at speeds up to 50 kmph as seen in the Volvo range of vehicles, can be made standard.
Share your thoughts on what you think can improve vehicle safety in India.