January 17, 2022 - 9:04 am

Six airbags compulsory in all Indian cars

    The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways will issue a draft notification making it mandatory for automobile manufacturers to provide a minimum of six airbags in vehicles that can carry up to eight passengers. This comes after the Ministry passed the mandate making two airbags compulsory in vehicles, including the cheapest ones on the market and came into force on January 1, 2022. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) in a statement said that in order to enhance the safety of occupants of the motor vehicle against lateral impact, it has been decided to enhance safety features by amending the Central Motor Vehicles Rules (CMVR), 1989.

    A draft notification has been issued on January 14, 2022, which mandates that vehicles of category M1, manufactured after October 1, 2022, shall be fitted with two side/side torso air bags, one each for the persons occupying front row outboard seating positions, and two side curtain/tube air bags, one each for the persons occupying outboard seating positions. An airbag is a vehicle occupant-restraint system which interferes between the driver and the vehicle's dashboard during a collision, thereby preventing serious injuries.

    Offering six airbags as standard in a car will admittedly improve the vehicle’s crash safety rating, although there could be several challenges around it, particularly in the budget segment. For one, it will inevitably drive up the cost of vehicles. A frontal airbag in an entry-level car typically costs anywhere between Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 and side and curtain airbags can cost double that. So, a car with six airbags could cost up to Rs 50,000 extra, which is a significant bump in price for cars with starting price from around Rs 3 lakh-3.5 lakh. It’s interesting to note that carmakers such as Maruti Suzuki, Renault and Nissan do not have a single car that’s offered with more than two airbags. Most carmakers that do offer six airbags only start to do so in models and variants that cost upward of Rs 10 lakh. The second concern is that installing additional airbags will involve a lot of reengineering in cars not originally designed to offer that level of protection. Changes to the body shell as well as to the interior trim and fittings would be required to make sure that the airbags deploy effectively and safely. This, too, would again drive up the costs.

    The auto industry has already been reeling with rising input and operational costs, plus there are stricter emission norms coming up with the second phases of CAFE norms and BS6 emission norms by 2022-'23. And while the ministry would hope automakers to absorb most of the additional input costs, some of it would inevitably be passed on to the customer. It thus remains to be seen how fitment of six airbags as standard on all vehicles alters the cost structures for automakers and customers as well. But what’s for certain is that while cars may become more expensive, they are also going to get a lot safer.

    According to the road accident data published by the National Crime Record Bureau, 17,538 car occupants died in road crashes, 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 seat belt 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 are wearing seat belts. Globally, there is focus to improve vehicle safety by upgrading the safety features.