The road transport ministry has proposed the mandatory installation of six airbags in all cars with a seating capacity of up to eight people from October this year.
While the move, irrespective of cost and variant, which was announced by union minister Nitin Gadkari on Friday, is aimed at improving the safety of passengers in the rear seats, it will push up the cost by at least Rs 8,000 to 10,000 per vehicle. The cost may be a little higher for vehicles with lower sales.
A draft notification was issued by the ministry barely two weeks after airbags for driver and the front seat passenger became mandatory for all new cars. "To minimize the impact of frontal and lateral collisions to the occupants seated in both front and rear compartments, it has been decided that four additional airbags be mandated in the M1 (cars) vehicle category: two side/ side torso airbags and two side curtain/ tube airbags covering all outboard passengers. This is a crucial step to make motor vehicles in India safer than ever," Gadkari tweeted.
The auto industry wasn’t pleased with the plan. A source in the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) said the lobby group had flagged to Gadkari how the move to make six airbags mandatory was not based on any evidence and road deaths data when he had first held a meeting with industry representatives in August.
"Nowhere in the world there is a regulation for airbags in cars. We are meeting the regulatory crash test norms. Second, there is no data or empirical evidence of rear seat passengers or occupant in cars facing bigger risk in crashes. There will be an additional cost to the cars because of the additional features and that will impact decision making of people who want to shift from two-wheelers to cars," the source added.
Industry sources also said the proposed timeline was tough to implement.
However, government officials dismissed the claims citing that all cars manufactured in India for export to Europe have at least six airbags. "It’s a matter of shame that we have to come out with regulations for safer cars. In Europe, car makers are providing more airbags to get the maximum safety rating and to retain their share in the market. Second, the manufacturers exporting cars to Europe and other countries already have the technologies with them and hence they can scale it up quickly," an official said.
According to the road accident data published by the National Crime Record Bureau, 17,538 car occupants died in road crashes in 2020, which accounts to around 13% of the total road fatalities in the country.
While the ministry’s thrust to improve occupant safety in cars is seen as a progressive move what remains a concern is the poor compliance of seatbelt wearing by occupants on the rear seats despite it’s being mandatory as per law. This is because the efficiency of the airbags is more only when the passengers wear seatbelts.