Mandatory Airbags – A compromise to passenger safety?

Passenger safety has always been a matter of concern in the automotive world. With the ever increasing density of vehicles on the road, the drastically increasing speeds, more and more exposure of vehicles to the younger generation and the availability of financing options has led us to ponder over the importance of safer vehicles, both for the people out on the road, as well as the passengers. But the thought here in question is that if relevant policies and laws are being made to look after the violators, are the policies alone enough to ensure the safety of human life since every life lost is a loss of human resource to the nation. This article discusses the basic loopholes in the existing mandates for the companies to follow and how there is an immediate need to update the policies. This shall present forth the disconnection between the policy and lawmakers to that of the practically existing problems.

Passenger safety; safer cars for India; THE MOTOR VEHICLES (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2019; mandatory airbags; accidental deaths;

Introduction to Passenger Safety
India unfortunately ranks at the top with highest number of road fatalities with about 11% share in the world. Passenger safety is simply defined as the safety of an individual siting inside the vehicle in case of an accident. This includes a number of factors. It need not be necessary that the vehicle in discussion is under motion; it might be stationary and still be hit by another vehicle. We are here mentioning passenger safety in particular because the vehicles are being made of material such as fibre bumpers (soft and bendable) to protect the pedestrians in case of minor impacts. A major concern over passenger safety is now being raised, thanks to the figures provided by The Ministry of Road Transport And Highways in their report on “ROAD ACCIDENTS IN INDIA – 2018” (published 25 September, 2019) which states that, “The data collected from all the States and Union Territories has been compiled in the Publication. The total number of accident related deaths in 2018 stood at 1,51,417 indicate an increase of 2.3% over the figures for 2017. About 85% of the accident related deaths happen in the most productive age group of 18-60.”
Road accidents have a deep impact on the families involved, both directly and indirectly, in these accidents. Accidents not only put a great trauma on the victims involved in the accidents but also cause huge economic losses to the nation. To put things a bit more into perspective, “Road traffic continues to be a major developmental issue, a public health concern and is a leading cause of death and injury across the world, killing more than 1.35 million globally as reported in the Global Status report on Road Safety 2018 with 90% of these casualties taking place in the developing countries and 11% alone being accounted by India.”

“Need is the mother of invention;” this statement holds true in every sense to the motor world. With the ever increasing density of vehicles on the roads, there sure was a necessity to invent methods to prevent fatalities on the road. So, mankind has been constantly searching for ways to make cars safer. With the first safety feature being the use of laminated glass in 1927 to the autonomous driving features being installed in the vehicles in recent times. The list goes along the likes of seatbelts, airbags, Anti-locking Braking System, stability control, lights, Collision Warning Systems, lane departure, and some military grade features like RADAR and infrared imaging in some of the high-end cars. Just like every neutral coin, everything in human life has two faces. There had been people who opposed the use of such technologies in the vehicles, quoting them to be against individuals basic Right to Freedom and Right to Choose. With modern day technologies that can simulate the difference created by the mere presence and/or absence of smallest fragments in case of a crash, however, safety protocols have been incorporated and mandated into automobiles. The legal perspective on the same can be understood in the next section.

The Motor Vehicles Act came into existence in 1988. This act laid down rules and regulations on all aspects of road transport, including registration of motor vehicles, controlling their permits, traffic regulation, insurances, driving licenses, and penalties. Thus, the Motor Vehicle Act makes it compulsory for a driver to have a valid driving licence. Also, it is to be kept in mind that no vehicle can be used without a registration number. After an amendment in 2019, Mr. Nitin Gadkari (Minister Road Transport and Highways, Government of India) said in a report that quotes, “The most important initiative taken by us this year in respect of Road Safety has been the enactment of the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act 2019 which, inter-alia, provides for a stiff hike in penalties for traffic violations.”
The transport ministry on August 29, 2017, issued a revised draft notification stating that cars and taxis (M1 category vehicles) manufactured on or after April 1, 2019 “shall comply with additional safety features and its requirements stipulated in AIS-145 of 2017”. The specific AIS (automotive industry standards) mentioned that only “driver airbag” has to be provided in all the cars (which the companies have taken up as a loophole and using it to their advantage ever since). On December 7, 2017, the transport ministry’s final notification made it mandatory that M1 vehicles need to comply with the AIS-145 starting July 1, 2019. Now, companies seem to have been using this “driver only” airbag mandate to their advantage
Companies Beneffiting The Loopholes
To know about the automobile market in the nation, one does not need to be an expert in the field. It is very clear and evident that the majority of the cars sold in the nation belong to the entry-level segment or the A-Class segment only. A vast majority of cars sold in the nation come equipped with merely the bare minimum safety equipment. It has been only after the new reforms that a driver side airbag has been brought into existence. For instance, the same make and model of a car will have a considerable difference in the amount of kit offered with them. Not to mention the fact that some cars offer a passenger airbag only as an option that too in their top of the line models only.
Airbag is nothing but a sensor triggered inflating bag of air, which comes into play within micro seconds of detecting a crash. This happens due to mechanism which inflates the balloon within fraction of seconds. Even after the mechanism being so simple, it is highly efficient and has been proven to save a lot of lives. Another major factor is that this, mechanism barely costs around Rupees 10,000 only per airbag installed. Even after all of this the manufacturers are not concerned to install another airbag into their cars. This comes after a fact that the front row passengers face the maximum impact in case of a frontal collision among cars or vehicles. A lot of crash tests have proven the worth of simple usage of a combination of seat belts and airbags.

The Lessons Learnt
Now, car manufacturers that ace the entry level segment of the automobile market have been using this ‘driver only’ mandate as per the government policies to their advantage by dropping the cost of production by a mere thousands per car. But this greatly affects the grievance caused to the passengers in case of a collision. In a country where a car is considered to be a status symbol more than a necessity, frontal airbags are considered more of a luxury than a safety measure. However, this mentality has been changing and a lot of people in the nation are promoting safer cars. A lot of cars, even under rupees 10 Lakh price bracket are now being equipped with up to 6 Airbags. And as per the rumours, The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways’ new draft notification has added a front passenger airbag to the list of mandatory safety equipment for all cars.
The addition of a front passenger airbag would spell an increase of roughly between Rs 5,000-8,000 in the prices of entry-level versions of these models. While that may seem like a notable hit for more cost-conscious buyers, a co-driver airbag is essential as it could save the front passenger from grievous harm or death in a serious accident and a lot of injuries in case of a minor accident. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) is yet to define the timeline for the revised AIS to come into effect, but once it does, manufacturers will have to do away with the single-airbag variants of their vehicles, which will see starting prices of those vehicles rise by a small margin.

Road safety has been an ever increasing concern to the government. With the constant rise in the national population, the number of casualties have been racking up too. But so, have been the laws and measures to counter this adverse effect. The inclusion of new and increased fines has already caused a lot of panic in the public, thereby leading them to follow the traffic rules much more strictly. With the government taking steps to make the cars much safer, the manufacturers have been upgrading their game as well. But this comes after an interval of time wherein a lot of cars have been produced with a single airbag only. So now that we have news about the upcoming mandate of two airbags, we can hope for better and safer cars for the nation. Although the case here reveals how the loopholes in the policies made by the government can be used by the automobile makers for their own advantage putting the safety of the people at stake, and who is to be blamed for that? That question makes for another read.

Source: Pixabay

Author: Navodya Tyagi

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