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How BNCAP has compelled carmakers to offer safety as a key tenet for their products.

August 22, 2023 was a landmark date in the history of the Indian automobile sector, with the government taking a major initiative of boosting vehicle safety in the country by launching the Bharat New Car Assessment Programme, or BNCAP, crash protocols for determining new car safety. The BNCAP regime came into effect from October 1, 2023.

The Indianised protocols – AIS 197 – which have been formulated by taking references from UK’s Global New Car Assessment Programme, or GNCAP’s, latest standards, aim to elevate the existing level of vehicle safety in India by compelling carmakers to offer safety as a key tenet into their products, in a market that is witnessing cut-throat competition from global players, and growing consumer awareness on buying safer products.

  1. Voluntary extra crash tests and safety kit required for 4- or 5-star rating
  2. Cost effective testing makes it easy for OEMs to participate
  3. Maruti claims BNCAP won’t affect entry-level segments as much

The introduction of the BNCAP entails products getting a star rating on a five-point scale. The star ratings are based on performance in frontal-offset, side-impact, side-pole-impact crash tests, in line with the revised GNCAP standard. The BNCAP protocol will test cars for the frontal-offset crash at a speed of 64kph, perform a side-impact test at a speed of 50kph, and specifically undertake a side-pole-impact crash test at 29kph in case the OEM opts the vehicle to be certified for a 4- or 5-star rating.

The BNCAP crash tests are voluntary for passenger vehicle OEMs and the protocols will award stars for both adult, and child protection offered by the vehicle.

Speaking at the mega BNCAP launch event in New Delhi, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, had said, “The BNCAP is India’s own crash testing programme, based on global standards, and it will propel the industry to march towards global standards, and opens huge opportunity for exporting high-quality, made-in-India cars. Most importantly, it will help the Indian consumer make an informed decision when buying a new car.”

The latest safety regime also comes as a cost-effective solution for the Indian market, and while the cost of crash testing a car at a global centre is estimated to be around Rs 2.5 crore, the BNCAP test cost is pegged at Rs 60 lakh. “Therefore, it opens significant opportunities for independent testing and homologation bodies such as ARAI, ICAT and GARC to offer time-bound, and transparent testing and crash results,” Gadkari had said.

Carmakers compelled to offer safety

With the implementation of the BNCAP regime, the government’s earlier proposal to mandate six airbags in all new cars in India stands rested as the stringent protocols would necessitate carmakers to offer these passive safety solutions to achieve a higher star rating. According to Gadkari, “The BNCAP protocols require six airbags for a 4- or 5-star rating. Therefore, there is no need to make these safety devices mandatory anymore as the BNCAP will automatically push OEMs to offer them.”

“Customers have come to understand quality and there is a huge demand for higher safety-rated cars. Manufacturers which are offering six airbags are gaining more market share; the market has accepted this trend. Those who do not want to offer are facing problems as far as their sales are concerned,” he added.

In line with the government’s intent, on October 3, 2023, country’s second-largest carmaker, Hyundai Motor India (HMIL) announced to standardise six airbags across its model line-up. The company also revealed its plans to volunteer three of its products to undergo the BNCAP crash test regime.

India’s largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki India (MSIL) has also shown its inclination to volunteer to get its products tested under the BNCAP regime, however, maintains that the entry-level segment of cars might not see much impact of the latest crash standards owing to cost constraints. “The volumes in the entry-level segment have been declining over the last couple of years, and if the costs of these products go up further, the sales will decline even more. It is not a segment where people have surplus buying power, and therefore, I do not think there will be much change in safety at this point, beyond what is required in regulations,” RC Bhargava, Chairman, MSIL, told our sister publication Autocar Professional.

Emergence of driver-assist technologies

With the growing advancement in technology, advanced driver assistance systems or ADAS solutions are increasingly making their way into modern vehicles, and emerging as the next-generation aids to enhance vehicle and road safety.

The primary role of ADAS technologies is to enhance safety of vehicle occupants, as well as other road users by continuously monitoring the vehicle’s surroundings. The system utilises sensors, cameras, radars, and other advanced technologies like complex mathematical algorithms and software, to provide real-time information about the vehicle’s surroundings, enabling the vehicle to react to potential dangers, and enhance overall safety.

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control (ACC), and lane keep assist (LKA) are some of the key Level 2 ADAS functions that are enabling not just an added layer of vehicle safety, but also reduce driver fatigue. With Level 2 ADAS technology, the driver is actively engaged in vehicle control, and the ADAS functions are designed to assist rather than take over the driving tasks.While up to Level 2 ADAS features enhance safety and convenience, they do not provide autonomous driving capabilities to the vehicle. Instead, the driver remains responsible for monitoring the environment, making decisions, and taking control of the vehicle when necessary.

According to Mohan Savarkar, chief product officer, Tata Motors Passenger Vehicles, “We are now focusing on ensuring that a vehicle does not get into an accident in the first place. That is where active safety, and ADAS come in.” Tata Motors introduced Level 2 ADAS features in the updated Harrier and Safari models – both were the first to be tested by BNCAP and secure a 5-star rating – and is likely to introduce the technology in other future models as well.

Given the growing public awareness around road safety, and intensified measures such as the regulatory framework that demands a certain level of safety equipment in all vehicles, there is a considerable effort in the safety domain that promises to reduce accidents on the Indian roads. However, the country is far from reaching a net-zero future in terms of accidents, and requires continued, collective efforts from all stakeholders, including the government, industry, non-for-profit organisations, and finally, its citizens, who will eventually ensure accidents are curbed by virtue of their safe driving practices, and observing empathy for other road users such as motorists and pedestrians.

The vision to cut down road accidents in India by half by the turn of the decade is achievable by citizen mindfulness, and their sincere obeyance of traffic laws and driving etiquettes, whilst, on the other hand, tightening regulations and advancing technology continue to enhance safety for all on the road.

Also see:

Next-gen Tata Tiago, Tigor likely to get six airbags

Indian government must discourage sales of large SUVs: Global NCAP chief



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