By S J R Kutty, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head-Vehicle Attributes & Technical Services
Road accidents account for one of the leading causes of death in the world claiming nearly 1.3 million lives each year. India itself accounts for 11% of global death in road accidents. Hence road safety and its awareness become a critical issue for the prevention of accidents. The Government of India is focusing on 4Es of road safety, namely Engineering, Education, Enforcement, and Emergency Care. The United Nations, in its Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030, has set an ambitious target of preventing at least 50% of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030.
Our roads can be made safer by deploying updated regulations as well as innovative interventions by OEMs/automobile companies who constantly work on enhancing the safety of their products by making sustainable investments in accident research. Continuous research is imperative to come up with technologies and design of safer products or safety features in products. Tata Motors has been one of the early movers in the automobile industry with respect to making investments for establishing state-of-the-art digital and physical product development processes manned by the best minds in terms of road safety in the country. The endeavour to build a safe vehicle is a complex and meticulous process that requires constant coordination between multiple parties. Here we demystify some of the crucial steps for making safer vehicles for tomorrow.
Covering grounds: The various aspects of vehicular safety
Contrary to common perception, vehicular safety is much more than just ‘airbags’. It is all-encompassing and has numerous aspects covering the vehicle, the environment and the people who drive the vehicle in three stages: namely, pre-, during- and post- an accident. This also means that safety is not only passive but also active. Passive safety covers devices that operate when an accident occurs. Seat belts, front, side and curtain airbags, head restraints, ISOFIX mounts, etc. are some examples of such devices. In contrast, active safety encompasses all other features that promote safe driving, such as the presence of brake assists, tyre pressure monitoring sensors, parking sensors, etc. In fact, several advanced driver-assist features embed safety holistically and aid in preventing accidents and post-crash situations as well. The integration between active and passive safety is crucial in building a safer vehicle.
Besides incorporating vehicular features to enhance safety, safety professionals must also keep in mind the specificities of human anatomy, understanding how men, women, and children respond to various contact and non-contact injuries caused by accidents. In addition, they must factor in several real-world safety challenges drivers face, computing a fair share of potential cases of accidents that people can be protected against. However, there exist limitations that must be taken into account.
Researching accidents effectively to democratize minimum safety
Once a vehicle is on the road there are innumerable real-world safety challenges every driver constantly encounters, from frontal or offset crashes, to side hits, rear-end collisions, roll-overs, and instability. The complexity of mass and human anatomy and driving on improper roads at varying and sometimes breakneck speeds, all pose fundamental challenges of appropriate product configuration for maximising protection in extraordinary circumstances when needed by either the vehicle occupant or the pedestrian.
Taking account of these use-cases in part, as mentioned earlier, is important to ensure safety. However, providing for each of them will make automobiles so unaffordable that a safety-conscious prospective buyer will have to settle for affordable mobility solutions which are unfortunately unsafe. Inappropriate configuration and over-specification of products can therefore become a case of the “great” becoming the enemy of the “good”. Thus, it is important to research accidents and cluster them wisely to carefully configure learnings in products. Automakers must provide safe options for customers in non-luxury products too, while striving to democratise safety for all.
Star-ratings and what they actually mean
To effectively judge the safety of their vehicles, automakers often sign up for third-party independent protocols, developing products to meet them religiously. This provides vehicles with performance (star) ratings based on rigorous independent digital analysis and robust physical testing. Auto developers must work in coordination with various stakeholders to ensure good performance. In essence, the star-rating a car gets, such as those provided by GNCAP, signifies the probability of injury in the car. Thus, a car with a 5-star rating significantly reduces the probability of a life-threatening injury as compared to that with a 1-star rating.
As one can imagine, to meet these exacting standards, a vehicle must undergo strict testing under very challenging circumstances. Biofidelic dummies are calibrated before each crash test, and months, if not years of component and sled-testing are conducted to ensure that the results align with the outcomes expected. This development journey requires a great understanding of safety protocols, including guidelines for evacuation of passengers trapped inside the vehicle post-accidents. These are the types of challenges that motivate Safety professionals and manufacturing engineers to engage in a lifetime of pursuit of excellence so that our products deliver high quality safety.
As is evident, the process of producing a safe vehicle requires unmatched skill, patience, and research. At its heart is years of accident research and analysis done by hundreds of safety professionals, labs, government agencies, and NGOs. Yet, more than anything else, vehicle safety is an evolving science. With changing road landscapes and newer vehicles, the endeavour towards making safer vehicles is constantly in progress, in pursuit of building a safer tomorrow.
In closing, I would urge you to embrace a simple old advice that espouses the cause of safety… Read in Marathi it states “मनावर ब्रेक उत्तम ब्रेक”, translated as “The Brake on the mind is the best brake”. Spending a few minutes on “thinking” safety before start of any journey and constantly reminding ourselves of safety, as we journey through life, is as vital as the outstanding computing algorithms and devices that our vehicles are constantly working with, for ensuring our safety.