Pick up any car purchase criteria survey worldwide and ‘safety’ invariably appears amongst the top three criteria, much more important than in-vehicle connectivity. The consumer realises that the objective of the car is to take him/her and their loved ones from Point A to Point B in the safest manner. The importance of safety while making a purchase decision is equally important for powered two-wheelers.
Why is it then in India that consumer preference is not translating into rapid and complete adoption of well established vehicular safety technologies like Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and airbags? With India accounting for around 10 percent of the global road crash fatalities, we cannot afford to be a society that brushes off the need of the hour under the carpet.
The annual production of cars and two-wheelers in India has grown steadily over the years, fuelled by rapid urbanisation and subsequent rise of the middle class. India produced around 3.2 million cars in FY2015. Alarmingly, road accidents and consequently deaths have also risen year on year. India has the dubious distinction of the highest road fatalities globally – around 142,000 lives are lost on road each year.
The need to implement vehicular safety systems (ABS, ESP, airbags) is critical to realising ‘Vision Zero’ (Vision Zero is a multi-national road traffic safety project which aims to achieve a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic) as envisioned by the United Nations. The vehicular safety system addresses all ‘at risk’ driving situations – loss of control, skidding and spinning off the road. Moreover, it protects the occupant in the event of an accident. These systems also make available a wide range of additional functionalities that are equally important – driver assistance systems such as collision mitigation system and lane departure warnings.
Learnings from developed markets
India has the highest fatality risk per vehicle at 1:995 (measured as the ratio of fatal accidents over total registered vehicles). Europe and the USA have a much lower fatality risk of 1:10,298 and 1:7,956 respectively. ABS was introduced in Europe as early as 1980, airbags in 1985 and ESP in 1995. The technology experienced rapid adoption because of informed choices by consumers and society. It resulted in rapid reduction of fatalities from road accidents although the number of vehicles on roads rose considerably. The Euro NCAP star rating system empowered consumers to judge how safe their vehicles are and helped them to make informed buying choices.
Growing need for traffic safety
Seventeen percent of the 142,000 fatalities in India involved car accidents. It is the second highest risk as compared to other vulnerable road users such as two-wheeler riders, pedestrian and bicyclists. This underscores the need for traffic safety in India due to the increased risk caused by the growing vehicle population. Bringing the number of road fatalities down calls for a multi-pronged approach broadly classified as improvement in infrastructure, better skilling of drivers on roads, and better technology in vehicles. The need to adopt a system of scientific investigation and analysis of fatal road accidents has never been more vital for India.
Bosch initiated accident research in India in collaboration with JP Research in 2009, the objective being to evolve an India-specific accident research database which could be used for accident reconstruction and analysis. The initiative has now matured into formulation of the RASSI (Road Accident Sampling System – India) consortium. Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs have joined RASSI and are now active contributors to the research. Bosch’s analysis of accident research data has proved clear benefits in terms of reduction in road fatalities if a passenger car is equipped with ABS, ESP and airbags and powered two-wheelers are equipped with ABS.
Bosch: pushing the vehicle safety envelope
In the 1920s, cars were already doing speeds of 80kph. In 1927 Bosch introduced the ‘Bosch servo brake’, which reduced braking distances by one-third. To help increase the braking effect, the system used the vacuum that arises in the induction tract of the engine when the driver releases the accelerator.
In the following decades, the company went on to systematically expand its work on brakes and braking systems. A highlight was the antilock braking system (ABS), which was launched in 1978.
Bosch not only developed systems to prevent wheels from locking and skidding during braking, but also the brake systems themselves. By 1994, Bosch had also supplied ABS for motorcycles. In 2009, the company launched the first ever system designed specifically for motorcycles. This was followed in 2010 by the world’s smallest system for motorcycles. Eight years after ABS was introduced in 1978, Bosch launched Traction Control System (TCS), which had been the subject of intense research since 1980. Just as ABS stops brakes from locking during braking, TCS prevents wheels from spinning during start-up and acceleration. In 1995, Bosch introduced ESP. This program uses additional sensor signals to prevent over-and-under-steering situations. The system analyses the data from sensors in real time and reduces engine torque and braking of each wheel individually, thus helping the driver prevent the vehicle from breaking away or skidding. A further stand-out feature of this development is its networking with other electronic control units.
ABS on two-wheelers
India is the second largest two-wheeler market in the world and therefore it is imperative that more two-wheelers are fitted with ABS than at present. ABS can prevent one-quarter of all motorcycle accidents resulting in injuries or fatalities. When braking hard or riding on a slippery surface, there is a risk that the wheels will lock and the biker will skid. That’s where ABS comes into play. The ABS control unit constantly monitors the speed of the wheels using wheel-speed sensors. Furthermore, Bosch’s Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) ensures the best possible stability in all riding situations. Keeping the pleasures of riding unchanged, MSC supports the biker during both braking and accelerating, and while riding straight as well as while cornering.
As of 2013, the worldwide installation rate of motorcycle ABS has been as low as one percent, with the worldwide production of powered two-wheelers hovering at around 51 million units. In India and China the level of installation is very poor, which means the scope for improvement and growth is tremendous.
Vision Zero for India
It is high time that Indian society adopts Vision Zero for our roads. The premier legislative and research bodies of the government should also advocate the safety mission. While the automotive research fraternity in India should analyse the multi-pronged approach and lay down guidelines, vehicle manufacturers should aim for higher adoption of vehicular safety technologies and aim for safety leadership in their vehicles. But, above all, it is the Indian consumer who should make the informed choice – demand safety ratings of vehicles. Also, initiatives like Bharat-NCAP should be rolled out as soon as possible.
The role of legislation is equally important. Our consumers can only be guaranteed standards, such as front and side impact, if crash testing is made mandatory. It is only fair that vehicular safety is democratised across global automotive markets. It is the vision of Global NCAP for all cars to meet basic standards for both protection and crash avoidance by 2020. At Bosch we believe citizens across regions deserve the right to live and make conscious choices, and for that mandating life-saving standards in cars is pertinent.
Published in Auto Car Professional (May, 2015)