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COMMENT: India top of the list for road fatalities

The World Health Organization’s recently-published report, Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, makes for both fascinating and depressing reading. Despite reductions in road fatalities in 88 countries between 2007 and 2010, the global total has not decreased – and an astonishing 92% of the 1.24 million road traffic deaths globally each year occur in low- and middle-income countries.

The disparity between developed and emerging markets in terms of road safety is still marked. India accounts for 1% of the global vehicle population, but 8% of recorded fatalities worldwide. In 2011, the country topped the global road fatalities list, at 142,000, up from 133,938 in 2010. In 2010, pedestrians accounted for 9% of road deaths, and two/three-wheeler users accounted for 37%. By contrast, Germany reported 3,648 fatalities in 2010, accounting for 1.3% of GDP (India: 3%). 13% of victims were pedestrians, and 19% were two/three-wheeler users.

But safety is not being ignored in India, and there are numerous road safety initiatives designed to raise safety awareness. Nissan, for example, takes a road safety roadshow to shopping malls across the country. In early March, it held its third Nissan Safety Driving Forum, in Chennai, having previously visited Delhi and Mumbai.

An astonishing 92% of the 1.24 million road traffic deaths globally each year occur in low- and middle-income countries

The roadshow features rollover, airbag and ABS demonstrations. Although seatbelts are required by law in India, only 27% of drivers belt up (WHO). Nissan’s rollover simulator highlights the ‘benefits’ of seatbelts: four mall visitors sit inside a road-ready Micra, and, belted, of course, experience first-hand the role of safety restraints as the vehicle is rotated 360 degrees.

In the airbag simulator, occupants undergo a lifelike demonstration of a low-speed collision: as the simulator ‘collides’ at 5-6kph, a scaled-down airbag is activated – perhaps the first or only time that many people will experience the inflation of an airbag.

Like airbags, ABS fitment is not required in India; selecting both as an option could add around Rs 50,000 (US$900) to the price of a car, according to one OEM. The job, then, is to convince car buyers of the importance and value of this investment, and this is where the third simulator comes in. Nissan’s ABS simulator has been developed in partnership with Bosch, and demonstrates the braking performance of a vehicle with and without ABS technology.

The reputation of Euro NCAP and similar programmes in developed markets is spurring on the development of NCAP programmes in emerging markets – and producing some very telling vehicle safety ratings in the process

In February, Bosch and Wabco hosted a joint safety symposium at Wabco’s Chennai proving track, designed to bring together OEMs, suppliers, industry bodies and government to highlight car and truck safety technologies. One of the event’s speakers was David Ward, Secretary General of Global NCAP. Ward is pushing for the introduction of an Indian NCAP scheme, similar to those being rolled out in Latin America and ASEAN. The reputation of Euro NCAP and similar programmes in developed markets, both in terms of raising safety standards, and associated marketing potential, is spurring on the development of NCAP programmes in emerging markets – and producing some very telling vehicle safety ratings in the process.

With no Indian NCAP, some OEMs in India advertise Euro NCAP ratings. But many of the technologies with which OEMs score NCAP points in other markets are irrelevant to India’s road and driving conditions. In India’s traffic volumes, where traffic lane markings mean little or nothing, lane departure and vehicle proximity warnings are nothing more than a nuisance. Understandably, many drivers switch off those and other alerts.

The challenge for the long-term is to develop safety technologies for markets like India that allow drivers to concentrate on the road without being bombarded with alerts. The immediate challenge, on the other hand, is to assess the safety and crash performance of vehicles built and sold in India right now. The desire exists to improve safety, and the need to reduce fatalities is clear. There now must be a cohesive approach by industry and governments in India – and elsewhere – to drastically reduce road fatalities in low- and middle-income countries.


Martin Kahl is Editor, Automotive World.

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