India is the sixth largest in terms of the number of vehicles in the world and boasts of the world’s second largest road network. But equally staggering is its 1.46 lakh fatalities arising from more than 5 lakh road accidents every year. In excess of the shattering loss of life and trauma to the victims and their families, economists say that India suffers an estimated 3% drop in GDP from this every year. That brings us to a pressing question – are our roads and more importantly, our cars safe enough?

This is a subject which is very close to my heart. I lost my only sibling to a fatal car crash, nearly 9 years ago. Only if the car he was travelling in had airbags, ABS and Electronic Stability Control, which would have prevented the car from sliding while braking hard and reduced the extent of the injuries, when it crashed head-on with a truck coming the wrong way. Being a 16-year-old at that point of time, I often pondered why were cars being sold in our country without the provision of basic safety measures. We spend lakhs buying a new car, then why would we not opt for these basic life-saving equipment, which only cost one Rs 30-40 thousand more? And more importantly, why would auto-manufactures not make it a part of their standard equipment, much as they do in international markets? I more often than not ponder, why can’t the Government make sure that cars do not roll out of factories without these essential safety features.

At last, the Government seems to have woken up from a deep slumber. And with the recent passage of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, a grin is a permanent fixture on my face. This bill paves the way to significant improvements in the provision of road safety and tougher laws for regulating road user’s behaviour, combined with standardising vehicle crash-worthiness and safety aids which help in significantly reducing accidents and more importantly, human fatalities.

The thing we are interested in here is the crash-worthiness and safety aids in cars sold across the nation. The same will be now handled by ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India), National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRIP), which is on the verge of setting up seven state-of-the-art automobile testing facilities across India.

This initiative called – Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP) – will be a voluntary star rating system based on crash safety performance features. Initially, the cars will be subjected to offset front crash, side impact and rear impacts, in which equipment such as front airbags, ABS (Anti-lock braking system) and seat belt reminders will become a necessity in cars to clear these tests. Over the course of time, cars will have to meet more stringent norms concerning pedestrian protection, whiplash protection and child restraint systems.

By when can we see Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program implemented in India? It’s closer than you expect – all new models sold in India after October 1 this year and all existing car models sold after October 1, 2019, will have to clear the prescribed BNVSAP tests. Finally, a sigh of relief!

The proposed speed for offset frontal crash testing vehicles under Bharat National Car Assessment Programme is 56 km/h which is lower than Global NCAP’s at 64 km/h. The lower speed has been justified by the Government of India by stating that the average speeds that our vehicles do are less than what is witnessed in the developed countries. I say we welcome this initiative with open arms, even if it is diluted to fit the Indian context. As a result of all this, manufacturers will be forced to display their car’s crash ratings along with other specification so that consumers can form an informed decision in terms of the safety offered by each model.

Car makers are warming up to this new initiative.  Apart from the luxury cars, mass-market brands such as Volkswagen, Toyota and India’s largest manufacturer – Maruti Suzuki (new cars) – already come with dual airbags, ABS and seatbelt reminders as standard. If we, as consumers, decide not to purchase cars without this basic safety equipment, manufacturers will follow suit. At the end of the day, demand dictates supply in any market.

Let me leave you with the Global-NCAP’s #SAFERCARSFORINDIA campaign, where they highlighted the crash-worthiness of some of the largest-selling cars in the country.