Automakers pave a road to safety

With the government nudging automakers to make cars safer, airbags have become more commonplace in new vehicles launched in the last couple of years. But airbags alone don’t ensure passenger safety in a crash. On the contrary, they can make accidents more fatal if the occupant does not use seat belts. Car makers, therefore, are not stopping at just offering airbags. They are going a step further to educate people about the importance of using seat belts.

The country’s biggest car maker, Maruti Suzuki, which had once rolled out a popular campaign on fuel economy — Kitna Deti Hai (what is the mileage?) — has now come up with a drive to encourage safe driving practices.  Maruti’s new campaign — Pehni Kya (are you wearing the seat belt?) — is aimed at generating awareness about safety. The initiative comes after a research undertaken by the company along with the Kantar Group in 17 Indian cities found that only 25 per cent of vehicle users — including drivers, co-drivers and rear occupants — use seat belts. The company has budgeted Rs 15 lakh for the campaign, which is spread across print, digital, TV and radio, and the amount could be increased further after evaluating the response.

Indeed, the message being driven home by the automaker is an urgent one. According to a report by the Road Transport Ministry, at least 5,638 people who died in road accidents last year were not wearing seat belts. According to the World Health Organisation, seat belts reduce the risk of fatality among drivers and front seat passengers by 45-50 per cent. Seat belts are also said to minimise fatal and serious injuries among rear seat passengers by 25 per cent. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, mandates every vehicle occupant to be secured by seat belts, but this is rarely followed by people in practice. It is even rarer for passengers in the back seats to be wearing seat belts in India — only four per cent of the rear seat occupants, according to the research, wear any type of safety harness. 

“Seat belt is the primary restraint safety device in a vehicle. Airbags and seat belts work in tandem. If a person is driving a vehicle equipped with airbags and is not using the seat belt, it can be even more fatal than a vehicle with no airbags,” says R S Kalsi, senior executive director (sales and marketing) at Maruti Suzuki. “Data shows that 15 Indians die every day due to non usage of seat belts. That is a big loss to families and the nation,” he adds. Besides introducing airbags in all its recently launched vehicles, Maruti Suzuki is also offering airbags as an option in models like the Alto and WagonR, where the mandatory requirement comes into effect in 2019.

Maruti’s survey also found that women were more reluctant to use seat belts — the rate of non-usage among female drivers was 81 per cent compared to 68 per cent for men. “One of the reasons could be that they (women) are conscious about their dress while driving. Some education is required there — there is nothing more important than your safety,” says Kalsi. Maruti found that the reasons behind not using seat belts are weak legal enforcement, negative image perceptions (that it crumples clothes) and limited awareness about seat belts as a safety device.

But Maruti is not the only one turning its attention to passenger safety. Korean car maker Hyundai, the second largest car maker in domestic market, last year launched its road safety campaign 'Be The Better Guy' with four digital films featuring the company’s brand ambassador Shah Rukh Khan. These films had different safety messages on themes such as using mobile phone while driving, drunken driving, speeding and use of seat belts. Besides these digital films, Hyundai has carried out on-ground road safety activities through its School Contact Programme and Resident Contact Programme, which covered over 90,000 students in 142 schools and 23,000 residents in 146 Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) in 10 cities across India.

“This year we plan to go to 150 schools. But instead of RWAs, we are targeting malls in 15 cities during weekends. We have also decided to roll out a new campaign that will be shown at top theatres during the screening of Bollywood film Padmavati. We can make the safest of cars, but even a tank needs a good driver,” says Puneet Anand, senior vice-president and group head (marketing) at Hyundai. In the national capital region alone Hyundai, which has partnered with the road transport ministry on safety initiatives, plans to spend Rs 5 crore on these activities. Besides the four themes of last year, Hyundai will now also focus on underage driving and the importance of following traffic signals. 

Japanese car maker Toyota was an early champion of safety, and it became the first company in the country to offer airbags in all its models even though it was not mandatory. Putting safety above other features, Toyota decided to do away with factory fitted music stereo players in its entry models to ensure the cost of cars didn’t escalate. It is also engaged in various initiatives to instill safe driving habits. It has a Toyota Safety Education Programme under which it creates awareness on road safety and road etiquette to create a new generation of responsible road users.

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