The story so far: On June 24, Union Minister for Road, Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari approved a Draft GSR Notification seeking comments from varied stakeholders on a proposal to introduce the Bharat New Car Assessment Program (BNCAP). The system would entail giving vehicles a star rating based on their performance in crash tests.
The voluntary programme aligns existing test regulations at home with global crash testing protocols. They are intended to increase the export-worthiness of vehicles and competition on safety parameters among manufacturers, as well as to instil consumer confidence in a vehicle’s safety. BNCAP would be the Indian adaptation of the Global New Car Assessment Program (GNCAP) that serves as a globally-followed paradigm to ascertain the safety of a vehicle in the event of a crash.
“Bharat NCAP will prove to be a critical instrument in making our automobile industry Aatmanirbhar with the mission of making India the Number 1 automobile hub in the world,” Mr Gadkari’s tweet read.
The change is sought to be introduced by adding a new rule 126E dealing with the BNCAP to the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989. If implemented, voluntary testing of vehicles would be carried out by domestic testing agencies for M1 category of vehicles, that is, passenger vehicles having not more than eight seats in addition to the driver’s seat, and weighing less than 3.50 tonnes. The vehicle must be imported or manufactured in the country. It would be applicable from April 1, 2023 – if cleared.
What is Global NCAP?
The Global NCAP is a standardised platform establishing cooperation and coordination among new car assessment programs (NCAPs) globally for universal adoption of the United Nations’ standards for vehicular safety. It provides reliable information about the crash safety of a vehicle based on certain common criteria and procedures. In turn, this helps the vehicle acquire a foothold in international markets.
The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was the first to come up with an NCAP in 1978. The Australasian NCAP was created in 1993 1978, Japan NCAP in 1995, Euro NCAP in 1997, Korean NCAP in 1999, China NCAP in 2006, Latin NCAP in 2010 and ASEAN NCAP in 2011.
Global NCAP was established in 2011 and is a project of the U.K.-based Towards Zero Foundation.
Regional NCAPs take into account the specific local conditions to determine the durability of vehicles in crash tests. A car may have attained a good rating elsewhere but it might not be the case in another geography because of potentially separate manufacturing origins and quality. Additionally, the nature of the market too has a role to play – there are markets where cars are made with reduced safety specifications because there is a greater insistence on affordability.
NCAPs are separate from country-specific motor standards in the sense that the latter assesses ‘roadworthy’ vehicles whereas the former evaluates their ‘crashworthiness’. A zero rating in an NCAP would not prevent a car from being ineligible for sale in any geography.
“It is true that this ‘minimum’ (requirement for being roadworthy) is not cast in stone but the progress to uplift the legislation standard is rather slow as compared to NCAP requirement which is the best possible current practice,” ASEAN NCAP states on its website.
How would the vehicles be evaluated?
Bharat NCAP would assign vehicles between one and five stars on parameters such as Adult Occupant Protection (AOP), Child Occupant Protection (COP) and Safety Assist Technologies (SAT). It would study frontal impact, side impact and the possibility of a door opening up after a crash. The potential impact of a collision is studied with the help of dummies placed inside the vehicle. Their dimensions are pre-specified as per the test requirements. The car is crashed into an aluminium deformable barrier such that there is a 40 per cent overlap. The test is also conducted in an offset position. The barrier impersonates an identical vehicle of the same dimension to simulate the same force as that observed in a crash.
The major change proposed with the Bharat NCAP is the speed for frontal offset crash testing – at 64 kmph in comparison to the existing tests conducted at 56 kmph. Offset collisions are those where one side of a vehicle’s front end and not the full width hits the barrier. Even though the existing regulations adhere to United Nations Regulation 94 (Uniform Provisions Concerning the Approval of Vehicles with Regard to the Protection of the Occupants in the Event of a Frontal Collision), its absence in domestic testing norms, and inadequate side protection in vehicles (such as airbags), has been often cited as reasons for the poor performance of Indian vehicles at NCAPs.
Adult protection: For checking frontal impact, the dummy is assessed for any potential injury on the head, neck, chest, knee, pelvis area, lower leg, foot or ankle. The airbag must protect the occupant’s body that moves forward reflexively in the aftermath of a collision. S/he must not bottom out of the airbags. Rib compressions are scrutinised for assessing injuries in the chest area. Further, safeguards must ensure that the velocity of the crash does not impact the knee joint – the pressure on the knee should be well distributed.
Additionally, opening of a door resulting in the occupant being partially or completely ejected invites negative marking. It must be ensured that there is no full or partial release of a latch or a hinge from the door or the vehicle’s body.
Child protection: It deals with two paradigms, firstly, the impact of a child restraint system (CRS) and secondly, children’s safety with respect to airbags. CRS or booster seats are portable seats (placed on top of the regular seats) designed to protect children during vehicle collisions. The proposed guidelines would reward vehicles that can accommodate a broad variety of child seats available in the domestic market. It categorises ejection of the child, both partial and whole, from the CRS a “highly undesirable and unusual situation”. It mandates the child’s head must be contained within the shell of the CRS preventing any outside blow following a crash.
Other than this, Bharat NCAP would give higher rating to vehicles with a permanent warning label on frontal airbags. Sudden braking during a crash may propel a child in the front row towards the dashboard. S/he could hit structures inside the vehicle and be against an airbag which is inflating at an immense speed and has huge volume, thereby, causing injury or death. Therefore, the guidelines recommend that cars must have manual switch to disable airbags which must not be within the child’s reach.
What does it hold for the domestic automobile industry?
The proposed move followsMinister Gadkari’s focus on “zero tolerance for road accidents.” In February this year, he had said efforts must be made to reduce road accidents by 50 per cent by the year 2025. Two months later, he sought comments from the public on a proposal for mandating six airbags in all passenger vehicles – another move to spur vehicular safety. The proposal had particularly upset automobile manufacturers fearing an increase in price of vehicles.
With respect to Bharat NCAP, Hemal Thakkar, Director for Transport, Logistics and Mobility at analytics firm CRISIL, said that consumers will have to prepare for an increase in vehicle prices, but will also get safer vehicles. “There could be a dent to the price sensitive lower compact segment as muted income growth has already increased pressure on this segment which will get further accentuated on account of this move,” he stated.
Vinkesh Gulati, President of the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA), believes that having the BNCAP rating criteria would emerge as a turning point in the domestic automotive sector in terms of product, technology and safety, since it would provide a platform that would test vehicular safety as per Indian conditions. “There were Indian OEMS who were giving lot of importance to passenger safety and getting their vehicle tested under Global NCAP, but lot of MNC OEMs were not interested in this,” Mr. Gulati said.
He suggested that the grading system be made mandatory for all original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) so that the choice is entirely left to the customer.
Addressing the issue of export-worthiness, Mr. Thakkar said that the proposed norm may not make a difference, since any vehicle that is exported to the E.U. or North America needs to be homologated (approved for sale or use by authorities) in the respective country. However, India exports a lot of passenger vehicles to Africa and Latin America, because of which prices of vehicles would increase, he said.