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Which are India's safest cars?
Joshua Crasto in New Delhi
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August 23, 2005

How often do you wake up to the news of a road accident that killed a few people in some part of the country? Almost everyday, right? Then you quickly browse through the other news and life goes on.

Every year, over 80,000 people die on Indian roads; every five road accidents leave one dead. Yet, it's just a statistic, which hardly changes our apathy towards road safety. Yes, road safety is an unpleasant, boring subject, but remember, it affects us all.

How safe is the car you are driving or about to buy? How does one rate safety and who does it? We have compiled some information on a handful of cars that are available across the world and are also on sale in India, and their safety features and test results. We think you have the right to know.

First, a little backgrounder. By law, all cars have to be tested and have to meet certain standards to be street legal. New Car Assessment Programmes (NCAPs) are carried out by various testing agencies in the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia amongst other countries.

The European NCAP carries out the most stringent crash tests, as well as pedestrian and child safety tests vis-�-vis other assessment programmes. Euro NCAP is a collaboration between governmental and automotive associations and is overseen by the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile).

The money for these expensive tests comes from the EU, by which the widest possible range of models can be assessed. Euro NCAP carries out frontal offset, side impact and pole test and has a simple rating system that awards stars out of five. This rating system makes it easy to interpret safety standards in cars before people go out to buy them.

Over and above this, manufacturers can go ahead and carry out further tests that are not required by legislation and choose to incorporate these additional safety features. Let's then see how the cars have fared now.

The Hyundai Accent GLS got an adult occupant rating of 2.5 stars and a pedestrian test rating of 2 stars. The levels of chest injury in adult occupants was exceptionally high, and hence the Accent missed out a full third star. Moreover, this car was fitted with a driver side airbag. For cars sold in Europe, side airbags come as an option.

Accents are also equipped with Isofix anchorages and are electronically assisted by ABS and EBD. Three-point seat-belts in the front and rear also enhance safety. Hyundai go as far as offering ABS on two out of their four models of the Accent sold in India.

The Mitsubishi Lancer GLX also offered poor protection to the driver's chest in side impact tests and the car structure became unstable, causing the floor pan to rupture in the frontal impact test. This gave the Lancer 2.5 stars for adult occupancy rating and 2 stars for pedestrian rating.

Child occupancy rating was below par, as head acceleration in child dummies was high enough to pose a serious threat. The crash tests were carried out on a 1997 model of the Mitsubishi Lancer which was equipped with driver's airbag and pre-tensioned seat-belts.

Hindustan Motors [Get Quote], the Indian manufacturers of the Lancer, currently offer no active safety features on their current range of Lancers.

Suzuki's new hot hatch, the Swift is indeed a little genius. It earned 4 stars in the passenger occupant rating, 3 in the child occupant rating and, hold your breath, 3 in the pedestrian rating. It missed 5 stars due to the marginal levels of force on the driver's chest in the front impact and the loads recorded for the driver's right lower leg.

The seat-mounted side airbags and head curtain airbag were impressive in the side impact test, as it also protected passengers in the rear. The well designed front bumper protected the pedestrian dummy well.

The Suzuki Swift is the only car that is almost a clone to its European sister. The only safety feature missing on the Indian version are side and curtain airbags, while ABS with EBD is available on top models. Decent job, Suzuki.

The Hyundai Elantra did not go down too well with the testers. At 3 stars for adult occupant rating, the airbag and the seat-belts did not protect the dummies too well. They also risked knee and leg injuries as the floor distorted and moved the seat. Seat-belts slackened, causing head and chest injuries to the driver.

The child occupant rating suffered as the child restraints did not hold. Also, the presence of a front passenger airbag with no option to disable it could prove harmful for the child. Still the Elantra is one of the few cars built in India which is fully loaded with safety features. So here's a good reason to buy one.

The Skoda Octavia was top notch in the tests. The Octavia offers front airbags as well as side airbags, which explains the high adult occupancy rating. Head protecting curtain airbags are available at an extra cost. The Octavia just fell short of 3 stars in the pedestrian rating.

The child occupancy rating was at 4, thanks to the incorporation of Isofix anchorage points and the option to switch off the frontal passenger airbag. These tests were carried out on a 2004 model Octavia Ambiente.

The Indian version of the Octavia is substantially equipped with driver and passenger airbags and pre-tensioned seat-belts. ABS is also standard equipment, although stability systems like ESP do not even come as an option, unlike the European models.

The Ford Mondeo scored 4 stars in the adult occupant rating and 2 in the pedestrian rating. The Mondeo performed well, but was criticised as having an unstable body. Child protection was particularly good, as a child seated in a rear facing restraint as well as a front facing restraint was protected in both front and side impacts. European models of the Mondeo come with dual-stage front airbags, side airbags and head protection curtain, as well as three-point seat-belts and ABS.

The Suzuki Grand Vitara fared rather badly for such a large vehicle, but its worst result was for the pedestrian rating, where it scored a big zilch. The front impact test put the driver and passenger at relative risk of head and chest injury, but  it kept both child dummies safe throughout. The child restraints used Isofix mounts.

The Honda CR-V came out with a good 4 stars for the adult rating and 3 for the pedestrian rating. It was short of the 5 star rating due to the rear door opening during side impact test, as well as the risk of chest injury to the driver in frontal impact. Isofix mounts worked well in keeping the child restraints in place and the child relatively safe.

The Nissan X-Trail also did quite well. It scored 4 stars in the adult occupancy rating but lost out on 5 stars, as the head protecting airbags as well as the rear facing child restraint didn't protect the passengers too well. The pedestrian rating was above average for an SUV, with the X-Trail getting 2 stars

The Ford Mondeo, Grand Vitara, Honda CR-V and Nissan X-Trail are fully imported CBUs, hence they come with the same safety gizmos as their European siblings. A good way to guarantee your security, if you can afford their rather high price tags.

Car manufacturers in India probably won't see their cars get shiny stars in these tests for want of safety equipment. Legislation in India doesn't require much safety equipment as standard. ARAI (Automotive Research Association Of India), India's premier automotive research facility, has been focusing more towards environmental tests and seem to have put safety on the back burner.

Although their seat-belt regulations are at par with the Euro NCAP, the frontal offset impact testing is yet to take off, and ARAI has not yet set a deadline for its implementation.

Child safety is something that is not heard of in India. Child restraints as well as other safety features haven't seen the light of day in many Indian models. Airbags found their way into Indian cars in 1994, and yet are offered only in premium segment cars, with the exception of a few. Electronic stability systems, electronic devices which are highly recommended to aid driver control, are yet find their way on Indian manufactured cars.

It is the sole responsibility of manufacturers to introduce these safety systems, if not as standard equipment, but as options. And not at exorbitant prices, but maybe at a premium. This will at least generate greater awareness amongst us. However, manufacturers need not wait for legislation and red tape to catch up to bring down the death rate in road accidents.

Notes: The Isofix mount is a method of attaching child seats in a car using pre-installed rigid anchor points, so that the child seat simply clips on to it. Pre-tensioners lock the seat-belt on impact, to prevent passengers from sliding below the seat belt, while three-point seat-belts are anchored at three places when worn. The reason why some cars like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord are not included is because they haven't been through Euro NCAP tests, but have followed other countries' NCAP evaluations. For a detailed yet easy reference chart on safety features of cars that are common to India and Europe, visit

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