Seatbelts, airbags, better brakes, ABS, Which is the best in-car safety device?

The government recently argued for making six airbags mandatory in cars. Experts say cars need both active as well as passive safety features; all work as one, and no one device is better than the other Active safety features are those that don’t let an accident happen in the first place, such as good brakes and ABS. Passive safety features save an occupant after an accident has occurred, such as seatbelts and airbags.

Four-wheeler automobile safety is broadly branched under two sections: active safety and passive safety. Global as well as Indian carmakers have made major advancements in both through connected mobility and technology.

Active vs passive safety
Active safety systems play a preventive role in mitigating accidents by providing advance warnings or by offering additional assistance in manoeuvring the vehicle through technologies like heads-up display (HUD), anti-lock braking system (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC).

On the other hand, passive safety systems are vital in containing the damage caused to occupants and pedestrians in accidents through seatbelts, airbags, headrests/whiplash protection systems, crumple zones and collapsible steering systems.

Do more airbags imply more safety?
The Union government, earlier this year, announced that all passenger vehicles must have six airbags as standard to improve occupant safety, to which carmakers like Maruti Suzuki said it will increase car prices and hurt entry-level car sales.Union road transport minister Nitin Gadkari later said that providing six airbags will only be mandatory for vehicles that can carry up to eight passengers. But do more airbags mean safer cars?

What do experts say?
CV Raman, chief technical officer (Engineering), Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, told FE that wearing seatbelts is the single-most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in an accident. “Seatbelts are the best defence; these help keep you safe and secure inside the vehicle,” Raman said. “Airbags are designed to work with seatbelts, not replace them.

If, for example, you are not wearing a seatbelt and an accident unfortunately happens, you could be thrown into a rapidly opening front airbag. Such force could seriously injure or even kill.”Gitakrishnan Ramadurai, faculty in the Transportation Engineering Division, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Madras, and a core faculty member in the Robert Bosch Center for Data Science and AI at IIT Madras, told FE that seatbelts deficiently reduce injuries to a large extent, and airbags add a layer of safety.

“But for kids, airbags can cause more injury if the kid isn’t buckled up. There have been instances of the skull of little kids getting fractured due to airbags,” he said. “In fact, in some countries, kids not even allowed to sit in the front seats of a car.”On the issue of mandatory six airbags in cars, Ramadurai added that six airbags are theoretically safer, but in practical conditions a lot depends on the overall usage.

“You just cannot not wear a seatbelt inside a car, be it the front seats or the rear,” he said.Automotive analysts FE talked to said that the focus must be on improving seatbelt usage, in addition to providing more airbags.

Seatbelt usage
“While cars are getting safer, drivers and passengers are just not taking the advantage of the safety features on offer inside a modern car,” said an analyst. “Seatbelts were made mandatory over two decades ago, but the usage remains low.”The last structured study on seatbelt usage in India happened in 2017.

Called the ‘Seat belt usage in India, 2017’ and conducted by market research firm Millward Brown and IMRB (Kantar Group) for Maruti Suzuki, it noted that three out of four persons in India don’t wear seatbelts, or wear sometimes, and just 4% wear seatbelts sitting on the rear seats.It added that as far as regions are concerned, South India ranks the lowest in usage of seatbelt (only 11% of drivers use seatbelt), followed by East (21%), West (22%) and North (58%).

Reasons for non-usage
Weak legal enforcement (32%) was the top-most reason for non-usage of seatbelts. Negative image perceptions (27%) and the belief that seatbelts ruin clothes (25%) were the other key reasons. Surprisingly, according to the study, 23% respondents did not even consider a seatbelt as a safety device, leading to non-usage.

Reasons for usage
As many as 77% respondents said they wear seatbelts because of legal enforcement and 64% wear because they consider it as a safety device. Also, encouragement from family and friends to wear seatbelts was one of the key reasons for usage.

How to increase usage
Analysts say that awareness, motivation and stringent law enforcement can together increase seatbelt usage rate. “A multipronged approach is required.

High impact, nationwide awareness programmes highlighting the importance of seatbelt as the most effective car safety device should be conducted.

People who regularly wear seatbelt should be encouraged,” said an industry veteran. “Cars need both active safety features as well as passive safety features; all work as one, and no one device is better than the other.”

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