Centre lets automakers drive in cheap cars with only one airbag
NEW DELHI: Don’t blame automobile companies, if you are told at a showroom that some of the popular entry-level cars come only with one air bag, on the driver’s side. The government regulation mandating single air bag has come handy for car-makers to provide just a one air bag, which safety experts say is inadequate since it leaves the co-passenger in the front seat vulnerable to serious injury, or even death, in case of an accident.
While the initial draft circulated by the road transport ministry over two years ago had proposed mandating two air bags in front as part of a major overhaul of in-vehicle safety of passengers, somewhere along the line, the government either dropped the plan or it was left out by mistake.
Features such as speed alert, reverse parking sensors and seat-belt reminder, which were low-cost inclusions, are now standard features in vehicles, but the crucial safety gear for passengers travelling in the front seat has not been mandated.
On August 29, 2017, following consultation with auto industry representatives, vehicle testing agencies and other government departments, the transport ministry issued a revised draft notification saying that cars and taxis (M1 category vehicles) manufactured on or after April 1, 2019 “shall comply with additional safety features and its requirements stipulated in AIS-145 of 2017”. The specific AIS or automotive industry standards mentioned that only “driver air bag” has to be provided in all cars.
Subsequently, on December 7, 2017, the ministry’s final notification mandated that M1 vehicles need to comply with the AIS-145 from July 1, 2019.
A transport ministry official said they would soon bring a proposal to rectify the AIS code to make air bags mandatory for both driver and co-passenger in the front seat.
The AIS codes are notified by testing agency Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) after a transport ministry-headed technical committee approves the new standards. Representatives from auto industry have more representation in ARAI and in the technical committee.
A quick analysis of newly entry level vehicles in the market showed that there are at least three products, which are available with only one air bag on driver’s side. In one of these cases, the manufacturer offers the optional feature of fixing an air bag for the co-passenger in the front seat. “We are complying with the regulatory condition. Passenger-side air bag is not mandatory. All vehicles in the market have also passed the mandatory crash test,” said a company representative.
Industry sources said one of the reasons of companies going for single air bag could be due to “price-sensitive” customers.
In recent months, some of the auto company CEOs have suggested that new safety features such as airbags and anti-skid braking apart from mandatory third-party insurance for three years along with BS-VI standards have pushed up costs, resulting in buyers postponing purchases, which has seen sales slide by the sharpest margin in nearly two decades.