By on January 10, 2018

India City Street

Every year, nearly 40,000 people lose their lives on American roadways. Tragic as that may be, it’s small potatoes when you consider India hovers around 150,000 annual fatalities. While you could attribute the difference to the 1.32 billion people living in the country, the truth is that car ownership in India is far less common than in the United States.

Here, there are about 255 million functioning vehicles, leaving the majority of the population with access to some form of four-wheeled transportation. However, in India, the number is closer to 55.7 million — which only gives 42 people out of every 1,000 access to an automobile.

Confronted with a situation that can only be described as catastrophic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to impose harsher penalties for traffic violations and requiring automakers to add safety features to cars sold within the region. While that’s a fine start, it doesn’t address the core issue: a nationwide lack of discipline behind the wheel. 

Modi’s proposal, which passed the lower house of parliament and is expected to go through the upper house in 2018, also creates problems where there were none before. India is a country where the vast majority of residents purchase small economy cars that lack safety features that are now mandatory in other parts of the world. That isn’t because Indian consumers love saving money; most simply cannot afford something safer. This also contributes to an elevated number of cheap two- and three-wheeled transports, which assuredly do not help in culling the astronomical number of daily fatalities and will be unaffected by the new law.

According to Bloomberg, bargain models from companies like Tata Motors Ltd., Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., Renault SA, and Hyundai Motor Co. are immensely popular specifically because they are priced below 400,000 rupees (or $6,300). Mandating a bevy of safety features is expected to raise manufacturing costs by around 7 or 8 percent — and you’d better believe it will be passed on to the customer.

However, even a small economy vehicle equipped with airbags and ABS isn’t going to hold up in a collision against a much larger vehicle. The real issue is that India has some of the worst adherence to traffic laws of any country in the world, as well as a laughable driver’s education and testing program. Modi’s solution is tantamount to giving one’s child a helmet, telling them to go play in the street, and saying they will be spanked if they get hit.

Let’s start with what it’s like to drive in India. The infrastructure is a mess. Road conditions are irregular and often on the poor side of things. While crosswalks exist, pedestrians do not always adhere to them and frequently sprint across major highways or use congested roads as a sidewalk. Traffic mitigation is nonexistent — vehicles will endlessly jockey for position in crowded cities and seeing drivers bumping each other is extremely common.

Finally, nobody adheres to the rules of the road. Lane markings are irrelevant, stoplights are negotiable, police can be easily bribed, and cars will stop in the middle of the street. With the exception of which side of the road you’re supposed to be on, it’s a legitimate free-for-all.

 

The reason for this is India’s laughable requirements for acquiring a license. The actual test involves little more than proving you can start the vehicle and find the gas pedal, and most “driving schools” primarily exist so you don’t have to go through the headache of going through the government. That’s not to suggest the country’s drivers have no skill, but they are required to use it entirely on navigating a borderline-lawless nightmare. Remember that Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads episode where a Canadian lost his mind because of how dangerously aggressive motorists were in India? That’s the norm there.

Things are slowly changing, however. Younger drivers have assets their parents didn’t. Advocacy groups promoting safe driving are starting to develop online curriculums and apps that actually bother to teach people the rules. Still, they aren’t mandatory, and most state-based safety initiatives haven’t seen much support. Toyota also launched 50 dealer-based driving schools within the country this year. While it’s a great way to get potential customers in the door, the program was said to focus on the need to promote disciplined driving.

Meanwhile, the PM wants safer cars placed on the road as soon as possible. Ashwin Patil, an analyst with brokerage LKP Shares and Securities Ltd., told Bloomberg the new act would negatively impact the short earnings of automakers and could be a killing blow for the ultra-low-priced cars in India, as sticker prices could go up by as much as 100,000 rupees (about one-fifth of the car’s total price). The bill is expected to require additional safety features on all cars manufactured after July 1st.

Not all companies will be equally affected. Both Toyota and Volkswagen haven’t made a distinction between their Indian and export versions, and have models that already exceeded Indian safety standards. That leaves other manufacturers playing catch-up — many of which produce cars that wouldn’t earn a single star if measured against European crash test standards.

Rajan Wadhera, president on the automotive side of India’s Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., said his company offers the same safety features on both domestic and export models. But he also stated that affordability and popularity have the greatest influence on car purchases. “Finally, it should be noted that it’s the customer’s choice that drives volumes than anything else,” Wadhera explained.

India is filled with a billion people living on the tightest of budgets, and having cars that are two decades behind the rest of the world in terms of safety isn’t its biggest problem. Should the safety standards be changed? Yes, absolutely. However, that isn’t going to change the systemic problem that’s ultimately causing 400 deaths per day. Something has to be done about the country’s unsafe driving habits, abysmal infrastructure, and lackluster policing.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

41 Comments on “400 Deaths Per Day: Is India Seeking Automotive Safety in the Wrong Places?...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Their cars tend to be quite combustible, it’s like a demo derby with Ford Pintos. I also see a lot of news items about buses going off cliffs in India too. Add the fact that they like to pack nine people into sub-compacts and a picture starts to form. I’ve seen footage of the traffic in Manila that makes this video look tame though.

  • avatar
    Heino

    The culture of ignoring rules has to change. Bribery is rampant, so you want a pilot’s licence? You have to share the road with bicycles and ox carts among other things. The police are always there with their hands out. To sum it up, I remember seeing large signs at traffic circles that proclaimed “Don’t create chaos” as city buses drove the wrong way. Beautiful country though.

  • avatar
    phxmotor

    140,000 yearly deaths on Indian roads… something must be done.
    Why? It’s not our country.
    As caring and concerned as any human being should be … shouldn’t this type of compassion about this type of problem be left to the Indians themselves?
    It’s not just problems on the roadways in India. It’s how the casts treat each other… it’s how there is literally garbage everywhere. It’s how there is crap also literally everywhere.
    India has more pressing… and more stinky… and much more deadly disease caused deaths because of the mess… than problems from hiway deaths. As bad as these road death statistics are…maybe just maybe other Crap comes first. And I do mean crap.
    Like an entire cultures inability to keep itself organized … Should India start by making cars safer? Sure… go right ahead…
    Now there is a nice diversionary tactic that ignores the real issue.

    • 0 avatar
      Stanley Steamer

      Who said is was your country? Which country is that anyway?

      Should TTAC articles about USA only issues, or is TTAC an international automotive website?

    • 0 avatar
      Add Lightness

      Perhaps the USA should invade India to restore safety.
      Oops – I forgot they have no oil.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      I think the common man or woman in India ignores the rules largely because he or she feels like he or she doesn’t have that much to lose, and stands to gain a little by ignoring the rules. I doubt that lack of education is the issue. The real education is what a young driver sees in the streets all around him or her. A classroom won’t change that much, if at all. If the standards of living in general go up, the people won’t feel as much pressure to take risks on the road.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    “…and having cars that are two decades behind the rest of the world in terms of safety isn’t its biggest problem.”

    Two decades? No, more like four or five decades. Even 20 years ago, most American cars had two airbags, along with four-wheel ABS. Not to mention early high-strength steels, and crumple zones. Go back 40 years, and cars had some kind of side intrusion protection (steel beams), along with three-point belts, at least in the front, and front disc brakes.

    But yes, more disciplined driving, along with pedestrians using common sense, would go a long way toward reducing the injury and fatality rates. Watching the TopGear UK India special several years ago was eye-opening – driving on crowded rural highways at night, with people and cows walking and wandering on the road, and trucks seeing cars and pedestrians as merely obstacles in the way of getting where they wanted to go.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Up to the late 90’s and early 00’s, China had basically free-for all intersections, everybody entered and everybody exited…somehow. I wouldn’t have called it a disciplined driving culture back then, but it had its own particular set of norms and expectations. It’s much more conventional now, so there is a roadmap to get from chaos to orderly, so to speak.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Enlightening video. The rule seems to be “proceed when you safely can”, which is the same as the US when the traffic lights aren’t working.

    I didn’t see any backups in that video, but the drivers’ collective blood pressure must be high.

  • avatar
    Vipul Singh

    The key issue is overpopulation and crowding around urban centers. As a kid in the ’80s, I used to hear concerns around the population reaching 800 million. Guess what? It is 1.3 billion plus now. Even as road-space and ground water levels are depleting, air pollution is way up.

    New infra projects are barely able to keep pace with the traffic by the time they are commissioned and hurriedly put into service. And all this is on top of what the article already says.

    On a lighter note, my theory is that while an average Indian driver is probably less well trained than the average western one, a good (accident free) Indian driver’s skill level is probably very very high ;)

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    This does bring up the question of universal standards. Car companies will build to the letter of the law depending on the jurisdiction they are in. The only time manufacturers care about safety standards or homogenization of safety/emissions rules is when those rules go against their ability to import and/or make a profit.

    Kudos to VW and Toyota for not decreasing standards for Indian cars as opposed to those marketed elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar
      Vipul Singh

      Renault and (Maruti) Suzuki have been caught with offering the same car with weaker structural integrity for the Indian market compared to the export version. This, even when both cars are built in India. Renault eventually fixed this after the story broke, it seems

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @Vipul Singh – this occurs all over the world. Brazil has lax safety rules and the majority of car manufactures downgrade standards all to make more money. There can be a 25% difference in manufacturing costs from a low standard country to one with high standards.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    This goes a long way to explaining the driving conditions in Redmond, Washington, home of the Microsoft Corporation.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    I once saw a crash helmet for sale in Bangalore decorated like Ayrton Senna’s and I wanted it. It was cheap and very light and had no AS, ISO or DOT certification label. The retailer would not sell it to me saying, “You Aussies ride too fast for this helmet.” It would have been illegal and unsafe for me to use it at home but I could see his point. I saw a few motorcycle accidents in India but I rarely saw a vehicle doing more than about 30kmh.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Just do a Google image search of “Indians on trains” to see how much people in India care about safety.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Or, perhaps, they don’t have any other choice. If you need to get from point A to point B, and an overcrowded train is the only way, you gotta do what you gotta do. If you are a transport authority with $X amount of tax and fare dollars to buy trains, REALLY WANTING another one doesn’t make one appear.

      Don’t make the mistake that poor people in poor countries are stupid and have no regard for life and limb.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      “Indians On Trains” would be a cool name for a band.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I am shocked (though perhaps I should not be) by the ridiculous amount of racist crap in these comments. I spent a week in Bangalore about a year ago, and it was nothing like many of these commenters (whom I doubt have ever been to India) claim.

    While I would not call Bangalore a sparkling clean shining example of the finest in urban planning, cleanliness, or order, it was not the unremitting hell-hole people seem to be imagining. It’s not a place I’d want to live, or would want to take a vacation to, but it was not unremittingly awful.

    On the traffic: Yes, this was complete and total chaos. I had to learn to simply stare down at my phone and fiddle with it while riding an Uber between my hotel and the office I was working at. A driver in India would not make it five minutes before instigating a police chase for traffic law violations. Horns were used more like bicyclists use bells than as the “get outta my way” use they are here. The bizarre/awesome thing? The drivers were GOOD. I see cars riding around all the time here with minor body damage; dented fenders, smashed bumpers, etc. In India? I saw one car the whole time with damage.

    Yes, lane markings were just decorative. Stop signs and crosswalks meant little. Though traffic lights were strictly adhered-to; I didn’t see a single red-light runner the whole time.

    On the city overall: I won’t pretend I sought out the dirtiest slums, but neither did I spend all my time in walled enclaves. Nearly all the city was of a shabbiness that would put in on-par with low-income parts of a major US city. But all these people talking about piles of crap in the streets? I saw (or smelled) nothing of the sort.

    Public Transit: The intra-city buses would not be out of place in any US city; they were fine. Some were crowded, some weren’t; nothing remarkable. There was nobody “hanging out the windows”. The inter-city buses were not as nice, but not markedly different from, say, school buses.

    The cars: There were lots of the 3-wheeled tuk-tuks everywhere. The 4-wheeled cars, other than usually being smaller than US cars, were unremarkable. They were not piles of rust and pollution held together with chewing gum and spit, and were not crammed to the ceiling with passengers.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Thank you for your thoughtful responses in this thread.

    • 0 avatar
      johnny_5.0

      I got to spend a week in India (including Bangalore) multiple times per year for multiple years. I agree that the drivers are actually awesome given the chaos. I disagree with other parts of your assessment though. Bangalore is nicer than some other parts of India since it is one of the tech hubs, but I still saw many of the same things there as I did elsewhere. Seeing the following things just isn’t that unusual in India. Slum villages (sometimes built touching the back fence of a 5 star hotel), dumps with sporadic fires and chemicals clearly visible pouring into marsh areas that made it into neighboring waterways, streets lined with trash. I could go on and on. I don’t say that disparagingly. It’s a poor country with an enormous population. I’m sure they will continue their upward trajectory. And for the record, I’ve seen people shitting on the side of the road in Bangalore on the way back to my first world problems hotel in our company provided car service.

      • 0 avatar
        Vipul Singh

        Am not so sure about the upward trajectory part, if we are not able to arrest population growth. This is an issue that has all but disappeared from public discourse here (in India). Either we take it up or wait for nature to do its job.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    I spent a week touring India in 2013. New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Mumbai. The roads were a total cluster f*k.

    Lane markings were a suggestion. Families of four (including babies) riding on motorcycles without helmets. Livestock and motorcycles going against traffic in the shoulder. Severely overloaded trucks. Constant use of the horn, for what reason I’m not sure. Makes driving in Manhattan pleasant by comparison.

    I’m amazed I did not witness a single accident.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    These Indian traffic videos can be educational, I didn’t know it was possible to tow 6,000 lbs. with a Vespa for instance.

  • avatar
    Zipster

    Rather than spending our money on SUVs and trucks, my wife and I travel. About 6 years ago we went to India and spent three weeks touring, mainly with a driver. We liked much about India, the people, the art work, historical sites, the country side, the food. However, many times we saw things that were shocking even in cities which derive substantial income from tourism. I left wanting to return but I have often reflected upon how much their adherence to ancient religous and cultural practices has left them in some ways centuries behind.

    Although made illegal many years ago, the caste system still flourishes. From that I learned what many very wealthy people in this country desire: all the benefits of great wealth and political power to themselves, a middle class just large enough to administer the country for their interests, and the rest can live in the gutter.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    There is nothing wrong with India starting *somewhere* to reduce road fatalities, even if there are other improvements to make.

    I suspect the higher vehicle costs will not be a terrible burden to the Indian car buyer. If the US market is any indicator, the phasing in of numerous safety, emissions, and tech features over the last 50 years have produced better cars for nearly the same adjusted-for-inflation price.

    https://www.cjponyparts.com/resources/mustang-prices-through-the-years

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      US market is not an indicator. US car buying is based on borrowing. Borrowing in India is not happening. This is part why they drive cheap cars. They have to pay in full.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    No one is going to die as a result of the traffic conditions in that video. The vehicles are moving too slowly. Traffic congestion is bad for pollution, and may result in more paint scrapes and toppled mopeds, but it sharply cuts traffic deaths. Here in the US, Boston is consistently one of the safest cities for pedestrians despite the insanity of the drivers, because speeds always remain very low.

    The deaths are coming from two sources: 1) poorly built “modern” roads where cars go fast but without the sort of protection for pedestrians, bicyclists, or moped riders that a Western limited-access freeway offers, and 2) driving during *less* congested times when vehicles are reaching higher speeds on local streets.

    In general, you’ll be very frustrated if you try to reduce road deaths by changing driver behavior. What works is to change road design. Where there are pedestrians, that often means changing road design to slow down drivers and make them pay more attention.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I liked the reaction of one lady in Boston. I have the green and turning right. She is attempting to cross on the white hand. I just keep going. She realizes that she will lose to a car in case of collision and jumps back. I see in the rear view mirror her waving and gesturing. FU honey. Watch the signs.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @slavuta: Have you never heard of ‘defensive driving’? Pedestrians own the road – *no matter what*.

        Looks like the editors pulled your earlier offensive comment – good.

        But I see you’re staying the course here with the ‘survival of the fittest’ tone. Keep it up.

        Just try telling the judge that you ran over that lady because she was jaywalking and deserved it. What’s wrong with you?

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          In Boston they made city streets bike-friendly. At first, they were giving tickets to drivers who didn’t share the road with bikes. Then they built bike lanes everywhere. Bicyclists became such a$$e$ that they don’t stop on red, and generally, don’t follow the rules. So, Boston police now make special campaigns, they go out and give bicyclists tickets. Yea, in Boston defensive driving will not take you far. In Philly they were giving fines to jay-walkers. Dude, look at India. Do you want to live like that? Just follow the rules of the road, and remember that there is no difference between riding a bicycle, driving a car or walking. Rules are for all members of traffic.

    • 0 avatar
      Stevo

      Well said dal.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    This sounds a lot like North America’s golden age of motoring in the 1930’s. When the first world countries move on to non-carbon based transportation, India may be the big market for old school/old tooling internal combustion in 20 years.
    Be careful what they wish for.

  • avatar
    buffknut

    I spent 2 weeks in Pune a year ago. Pune is a major tech hub with over 5mm people and growing rapidly. Traffic was total chaos. A 3 lane road has 6 lanes of vehicles, some of which wind inside lines of trees along the roadside. Scooters everywhere with 3, 4, even 5 people on them. To walk across a street is only possible by just doing it, walk right out into the traffic and weave between slow moving vehicles.

    All different from Hong Kong where I recently was. Although extremely congested, much more disciplined. Walking around HK is like being in Times Square on the busiest day, everywhere you go in HK.

  • avatar

    Start with birth control.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • JimZ: Funny, Jim Hackett said basically the same thing yesterday and people were flinging crap left and right.
  • JimZ: That and the fact that they could run on gasoline, which was considered a useless waste product back in the...
  • JimZ: Gas turbines are less efficient (more so the smaller you make them,) only like being run at 100% load, and have...
  • JimZ: Oh look, another geek who’s obsessed with the “purity” of a series hybrid.
  • Ce he sin: Interesting that you mention only locomotives because multiple unit trains (the ones with engines or...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States