Crash tests show India’s cars are unsafe

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The first-ever independent crash tests of some of India’s popular small cars and models from leading manufacturers have shown a high-risk of life threatening injuries in road crashes. In results published on 31 January all the cars selected by Global NCAP for testing in a frontal impact at 64km/h received zero-star adult protection ratings.

The models tested included India’s best-selling car, the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800. The Tata Nano, Ford Figo, Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Polo also underwent the safety assessment and received the lowest safety rating.

Combined sales of these five cars account for around 20% of all the new cars sold in India last year. Global NCAP chose the entry-level version of each model and none of these models were fitted with air bags as standard. Global NCAP is supported by the FIA Foundation along with International Consumer Testing and Research, the Road Safety Fund and the World Bank Global Road Safety Facility.

Max Mosley, Chairman of Global NCAP, said: “India is now a major global market and production centre for small cars, so it’s worrying to see levels of safety that are 20 years behind the five-star standards now common in Europe and North America. Poor structural integrity and the absence of airbags are putting the lives of Indian consumers at risk. They have a right to know how safe their vehicles are and to expect the same basic levels of safety as standard as customers in other part of the world.”

In the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800, the Tata Nano and the Hyundai i10, the vehicle structures proved inadequate and collapsed to varying degrees, resulting in high risks of life-threatening injuries to the occupants. The extent of the structural weaknesses in these models were such that fitting airbags would not be effective in reducing the risk of serious injury, according to Global NCAP.

The Ford Figo and Volkswagen Polo had structures that remained stable – and, therefore, with airbags fitted, protection for the driver and front passenger would be much improved.

Coinciding with the Global NCAP tests, Volkswagen decided to withdraw the non-airbag version of the Polo from sale in India. Because of this, Global NCAP agreed to a request from VW to assess a version of the Polo that as from now has two airbags fitted as standard. Other manufacturers had the same opportunity. The protection proved much better and this airbag-equipped model received a four-star rating for adult occupant protection. Global NCAP encourages consumers in India to check which version of the Polo they buy.

Global NCAP concludes that taken together the results highlight the vital combination of both sound structural integrity and air bags as standard equipment. It recommends that these features are the sure way to exceed the minimum UN crash test standard at 56km/h. They also offer adequate levels of protection in a higher speed crash at 64km/h, the speed most commonly used by independent consumer crash test programmes.

Rohit Baluja, President of India’s Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE) said: “These results show that India would benefit enormously from the introduction of minimum crash safety standards and clearer information for consumers about the protection new cars offer. Many cars made in India for export meet these standards already, so it’s not a question of know-how or capability: India’s automobile industry just needs the right incentives. With the UN’s minimum safety standards and clear information for consumers, India can produce cars that are every bit as good as those in Europe and the US.”

Global NCAP has awarded a separate child safety rating to each car in order to highlight the different levels of protection vehicles provide to passengers on the rear seats. Because the only safe way for young children to travel is properly restrained in a child seat, the assessment checks how compatible the car is with the child seats recommended by the manufacturer, as well as the protection provided in the crash.

In the assessments, the child seats recommended by manufacturers were often found to be incompatible with their vehicle’s belt system. In the Tata Nano, there was no three-point seatbelt on the rear seats and no way to install a child seat or transport a small child safely.

“Vehicle manufacturers understand how important it is for young children to travel buckled up in a child seat that’s installed securely on the rear seat,” said David Ward, Secretary-General of Global NCAP. “They know what they need to do to make it as easy as possible for parents: it’s just a question of priorities. Indian families buying these cars expect their children to be given the same protection as children in other parts of the world.”

Global NCAP is an independent charity registered in the UK. It serves as a global platform for NCAPs around the world to exchange best practice in consumer orientated vehicle safety initiatives. Global NCAP also provides financial and technical assistance to new programmes in the rapidly motorizing countries and regions of Asia and Latin America. Global NCAP receives financial support from the FIA Foundation, from International Consumer Testing and Research, from the Road Safety Fund and the World Bank Global Road Safety Facility. Global NCAP supports the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and is a member of the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration. There are currently nine NCAP programmes or similar active across the world.

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