Safe automobiles for India campaign sign now

India is the largest democracy and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This growth is reflected in the large number of automobiles being sold in India and the new highways being constructed. With these developments come a large number of new and unexperienced drivers taking to the roads.

India, as a country, is keeping up with developments in science and technology with the rest of the world. The country has kept up with the best in the world in regulating pollution due to automobiles, as shown by the mandatory Bharat III certification, which is among the best in the world, and is comparable to Euro III emission norms. India has also good safety regulations by imposing mandatory helment use for two-wheeler riders in many cities.

However, the safety regulations for four-wheeler and larger automobiles are severely lacking. Only some parts of the country have mandatory seatbelt laws or cellular phone use laws while driving. The safety standards for automobile manufacturers are however highly lacking.

The Indian government does not mandate the provision of airbags for front seat occupants in automobiles. According to a study published by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1996, air bags reduce fatality by upto 30\% in frontal impacts[1]. The following are the percentages of reduction in fatality in cars fitted with front airbags in various types of collisions as provided by the same study:

Overall fatality reduction:
1. Driver, passenger cars: 11\%
2. Driver, light trucks (SUV and pick-up trucks): 10\%
3. Front passenger aged 13 years and above, passenger cars: 11\%

Purely frontal collisions, no rollover - fatality reduction:
1. Driver, passenger cars: 30.5\%
2. Driver, light trucks (SUV and pick-up trucks): 27\%
3. Front passenger aged 13 years or over, passenger cars: 27\%

The study found that passengers below 13 years may be injured due to air bags, and they must be seated in the back seat for better safety. The study also found that airbags help save lives for occupants of small as well as large cars.

Other studies by the same organization have found that fatality is better reduced if the occupants wear three-point seat belts and the cars were equipped with airbags (48\% reduction), compared to cars with seat belts alone (45\% reduction)[2]. Furthermore, use of seat belts reduce injury due to the sudden deployment of airbags. All the results above are statistically significant.

Anti lock brakes (ABS) is another protective safety feature that has been found to be very effective. Studies show that all-wheel ABS systems reduce fatal crashes by 24\% and non-fatal crashes by 14\% on wet roads involving more than one vehicle. Fatal crashes with pedestrians and bicyclists were reduced by 27\% on both wet and dry roads. However, all-wheel ABS systems increased single-vehicle run-off-road accidents by about 28\%, but they cause could not be ascertained[3]. These increases were not found with rear-wheel ABS systems, but they also produced smaller reductions in other types of accidents[4].

Other minor features have also been found to significantly reduce automobile accidents. High mounted centre stop lamps attract the attention of a driver following a vehicle sooner than no centre mounted stop lamps when the vehicle in front applies the brakes. In one study by the US NHTSA, high mounted centre stop lamps were found to reduce rear-end collisions by 8.5\% in the short term and 4.3\% in the long term[5]. Side marker lamps indicate the presence of a vehicle when viewed from an angle at night. A study indicates that side marker lamps reduce night time angle collisions by 16\%[6]. They also reduce the number of personal injuries by 21\%. Both high mounted centre stop lamps and side marker lamps cost negligible amount of money but prevent a significant number of accidents, protecting large amounts of life and property.

We also find that crash testing of vehicles is not performed by most automobile manufacturers in India. Safety of vehicles during an accident cannot be measured and improved without crash testing. The lack of initiative on part of the manufacturers to perform crash tests to measure and improve automobile safety is thoroughly unfair to the customers. Automobile manufacturers must be required to perform crash tests to measure and improve the structural safety, energy absorption and dissipation mechanisms, and protection of the occupant compartment of the vehicles.

When even restaurants and the food service industries are subject to stricter inspection and food safety regulations, it is shocking that the automobile industry is not held to the same standards by itself or by the government.

The above studies show that these safety features are very important for the protection of life, limb and property. India has good safety regulations in several areas. However, the safety regulations are glaringly lacking when it comes to the automobile industry and driver awareness.

Hence, in true democratic fashion that India stands for, we the undersigned, most of whom are citizens of India and customers of the Indian economy and industry, petition to the Government of India to regulate the automobile safety norms through the following actions by enforcing them within a reasonable amount of time (mandating them within less than five years from now, preferably before the end of the year 2010).

Mandatory regulations for automobile manufacturers:
1. Dual front airbags (driver and front passenger)
2. Anti lock brakes (all wheel)
3. High mounted center stop lamps
4. Side marker lamps
5. Crumple zones and energy absorbing zones
6. Mechanisms to prevent the sliding of the bonnet into the passenger compartments in frontal collisions
7. Front and side impact crash testing by manufacturers to measure and improve safety
8. Independent crash testing by a neutral agency that does not receive funds directly or indirectly from the automobile industry, and publication of these results free of cost to the consumers
9. Three-point seat belts for all occupants for cars and light trucks
10. Child restraint anchors on the rear seat
11. Regulate and enforce minimum required safety standards for all the safety devices - seat belts, air bags, lights, crumple zones, child seats, etc.

Desirable/recommended optional features for automobile manufacturers
1. Side chest and thorax airbags for front seats
2. Side curtain airbags for front and rear seats
3. Active head rests (for head and neck protection in rear impacts) for front seats
4. Height adjustable driver seats
5. Automatic unlocking of doors after an accident
6. Electronic stability/traction control
7. Driver seat belt warning alarm
8. Occupant sensing front-passenger airbag and seat belt alarm

Driver education and enforcement
1. Educate the drivers and passengers about the proper use and benefits of seat belts, airbags and anti lock braking systems through mass media, and make it part of the driver licensing requirements.
2. Enforce use of seat belts for all occupants of cars and light trucks.
3. Enforce seating children below the age of 13 years in the rear seat, and those below the age of 2 years in a child seat anchored on the back seat.

We recommend the Government of India to form a committee consisting of a panel which includes engineers and medical doctors. Representation from the automobile industry must be limited to one-third of this committee.

We believe that the automobile industry is reluctant to implement these safety features to reduce costs in the cost-conscious Indian market, and the only way to make them implement these features is regulation by the Government. It would be wonderful if the automobile industry or the government took the initiative to give safety the first priority.

We are appalled by the lack of both. We are shocked that the Indian government did not regulate automobile safety features, even though other countries have studied and enforced these features for more than two decades. For example, other countries such as the USA mandated front airbags in the year 1994. We are also shocked by several multinational automobile manufactures who provide these safety features as standard features in their cars marketed in developed countries but neglect them in India, putting the Indian consumer's life at risk. We are also shocked by automobile manufacturers, both Indian and foreign, provide entertainment features such as MP3 audio players and DVD video players as optional equipment in their cars, but do not provide safety features such as airbags as a standard feature or even as an optional upgrade. Lack of customer demand is not a justification for compromising the safety. Customer ignorance has to be remedied by education, and the government and the industry need to make life and road travel for their esteemed customers by educating the customers and manufacturing and selling safer vehicles.

We, the citizens and consumers of India, urge the Government of India to regulate the life saving safety features of the products of the Indian automobile industry on par with the best of the world. We also recommend the Indian automobile industry to be proactive in providing Indian customers the best safety features available in the best cars of the world.

Thank you.

1. Fatality Reduction by Air Bags: Analyses of Accident Data Through Early 1996. NHTSA Report Number DOT HS 808 470; August 1996

2. Fatality Reduction by Safety Belts For Front-Seat Occupants of Cars And Light Trucks. NHTSA Report Number DOT HS 809 199; December 2000

3. Preliminary Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Antilock Brake Systems for Passenger Cars. NHTSA Report Number DOT HS 808 206; December 1994

4. Preliminary Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Rear-Wheel Antilock Brake System for Light Trucks. Submitted to NHTSA Docket No. 70-27-GR-026; December 1993

5. Long-Term Effectiveness of Center High Mounted Stop Lamps in Passenger Cars and Light Trucks. NHTSA Technical Report Number DOT HS 808 696; March 1998

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