In the early hours of December 2021, a car collided into a tree near the Hyderabad Central University, splitting the vehicle into two. This high-impact crash claimed the lives of two budding junior artists aged 19 and 23, and a 25-year-old bank employee.

Every day, our roads bustle with vehicles. The majority of us rely on various motorised and non-motorised modes of transportation, both public and private, for daily travel. However, for most Indians, just like people worldwide, cars symbolise the epitome of safe private transport. They offer protection from weather elements and potential collisions, especially when compared to bikes or non-motorised transport.

Alarming fatalities

In 2021, 45 per cent of the roughly 1,54,000 traffic-related fatalities in India involved two-wheeler users. The transition from two-wheelers to cars in India, therefore, represents not just a status upgrade but a pivotal step towards enhanced safety during commute. Yet, a pressing concern arises: Are cars in India as safe as they should be? Disturbingly, in 2021, 13 per cent of all road crash fatalities involved occupants of cars and other light motor vehicles, translating to almost 20,000 lives lost. SaveLIFE Foundation’s (SLF) forensic investigation of road crashes have also unearthed worrisome facts. In 62 per cent of car crashes investigated by SLF, intrusion into the passenger compartment was a major cause of fatality.

Furthermore, in 30 per cent of car crashes investigated, the vehicles lacked essential safe-braking technology such as ABS, EBD and ESC. Improving crashworthiness of our cars by strengthening their body structures, adding active safety features, promoting behaviours like usage of rear seatbelts and child restraint systems (CRS) could significantly mitigate such tragedies.

A much-needed initiative to address this is the Bharat New Car Assessment Programme (BNCAP), recently launched by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. BNCAP evaluates cars sold in India based on a blend of national and international safety parameters. This assessment will empower Indian consumers by providing insights into a car’s safety, pushing them beyond brand, cost-efficiency, or aesthetics.

Safety ratings

Although currently voluntary, BNCAP’s safety ratings will reshape consumer preferences by allowing a deeper understanding of the car’s ability to protect adults as well as children in the event of a crash. These ratings can potentially influence the outcome in life-threatening situations and influence purchase decisions as well as the use of safety features.

BNCAP’s mission also includes promoting localised testing that recognises unique Indian safety requirements at a fraction of European costs. By stimulating innovation for safer cars, India could also emerge as a global hub for crash testing and road safety.

BNCAP aims to bridge the safety disparity between India and the developed nations. As we propel into a technologically advanced era, transparent safety ratings like those offered by BNCAP will become pivotal to preserving life on our roads.

The next milestone must be to evolve the standard from the Bharat New Car Assessment Programme to the Bharat New Vaahan Assessment Program, expanding the program’s reach to other vehicles such as buses, used by the common man.

The writer is the founder and CEO of SaveLIFE Foundation