It is important to understand that safety systems in the automotive industry were earlier majorly focussed on the four-wheeler passenger vehicle segment, with passive systems playing a key role
The automotive industry across the globe is increasingly focussing on safety. In fact, safety and related systems are poised to play a crucial role in the industry megatrends of connected, shared, electric and autonomous. However, the scenario has evolved with the safety technology penetrating across other segments, especially two-wheelers and commercial vehicles. The objective of any mobility solution is to facilitate a secure and safer transfer of people and goods from one location to another. It must be noted that safety systems need to address passenger safety requirements inside a vehicle as well as safety of people outside such as pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists.
Over the years, passive safety features such as seat belts, airbags, emergency calling and helmets have been widely prevalent and only come into play after an accident has occurred. The positive thing is that passive safety systems in contemporary times are being offered as a standard fitment across segments.
The increasing focus on the need to mitigate road-accident-induced fatalities has paved the way for the emergence of active safety systems in vehicles, wherein the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) technology came to the fore. ADAS features such as lane departure warning, emergency braking systems, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, parking assist, tyre pressure monitoring system are not just aimed at offering a higher level of driver comfort, but also focussed on ensuring safety of vehicle occupants as well as of pedestrians. These active safety systems first got integrated into premium vehicles and over the years have penetrated into high-powered motorcycles as well as commercial vehicles.
One cannot discount the importance of different sensors deployed in active safety systems. It is these sensors that cull vehicle information, environment, and subsequently transfer that data to electronic control units (ECUs) that analyse and process it. The task of initiating corrective or preventive action is performed with assistance of actuators in order to avoid any untoward situation. Thus, the information is gathered via various sensor components such as infra-red, radar, LIDAR and cameras. More importantly, these systems need to be connected to each other at all times in high-speed, and be error-free.
ROLE OF ADAS
ADAS have witnessed significant proliferation over the past few years. In fact, ADAS is seen as the first step towards automating the driving systems of a vehicle and can be termed as a bridge towards the future of autonomous vehicles. ADAS can at best be equated with Level II or Level III of autonomous driving. The larger focus of the auto industry is on mitigating road traffic deaths, if not completely eliminate them, wherein ADAS is seen as a big game-changer.
Sanjay Gupta, Vice President & India Country Manager, NXP Semiconductors, said ADAS is a stepping stone towards autonomous vehicles. “The continuous evolution of automotive technology is expected to make autonomous vehicles a reality. But in this journey towards autonomous vehicles, the biggest role is being played by ADAS that provides safe and increasingly autonomous experiences. ADAS is one of the fastest-growing segments of automotive electronics, fuelled by technology advancements and consumer interest in safety applications that protect drivers and reduce accidents.”
Gupta feels that adoption of ADAS can bring down road fatalities in India in a significant manner. “The Indian government is working on making ADAS mandatory in all cars by 2022 as road mishaps cost India 3-5 % of its GDP every year and an enormous number of precious lives. Despite India accounting for only one percent of the vehicles across the world, we contribute around 6 % of the global road fatalities,” he opined.
IV Rao, Visiting Senior Fellow, Centre for Sustainable Mobility, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), & former Senior MEO, Engineering, Maruti Suzuki India & Director, Maruti Centre for Excellence believes that the ADAS technology must be thoroughly analysed before it is implemented in India. “Some ADAS features are already deployed in vehicles in Europe and US, among others, but in India, road users do not have lane driving discipline or even maintaining minimum distance with the vehicle ahead. We must study our driving habits and carefully pick and choose which ADAS feature we can adopt for India. We must understand what is good for us as there is no point following what is happening in Europe as what may be good there with the traffic behaviour there, may not be good for India where we have very different traffic mix, with 70 % two-wheelers in addition to pedestrians and bicycles sharing same road space,” he remarked.
According to Ashim Sharma, Partner & Group Head, Nomura Research Institute, safety is a high priority area for Indian customers. “Safety of vehicles is fast becoming a key point of consideration for customers. The number of 5 and 4 Star-compliant Indian models in the latest NCAP tests only testify this fact, and manufacturers are focussing on marketing safety as a key differentiator of their vehicles.”
Rao said there is a concerted effort globally to reduce road accident-induced fatalities. “The WHO has clearly outlined its focus on attaining zero fatalities with increased attention on road safety management, safer roads, safer vehicles, safer road users as well as post-crash response & emergency care. Although India has made improvements in these areas, there is no improvement in road accidents and fatalities. Clearly, there is a need for a change in approach,” he pointed out.
Sharma felt that having safer cars only is not enough. “The road safety journey of India has a fair distance to go as safer cars alone won’t suffice. It is imperative to have an infrastructure, which is conducive to the functioning of the safety systems in cars as well as adequate reinforcement of rules so that unsafe driving behaviour can be restricted.”
Rao was categorical that even the high traffic violation penalties imposed under the new Motor Vehicle Act have not brought about any perceivable change in road users. “The percentage of two-wheeler users wearing helmets is still very low and many use helmets only to avoid being slapped with a penalty by the cops. Many road users don’t realise that wearing the helmet properly is for their safety – similarly, the use of seatbelts in passenger cars is still very low,” he said.
Rao threw an interesting perspective of how Indian roads users find ways to breach traffic norms. “Indian road users precisely know roads that have automatic cameras installed, which can automatically issue challans to the vehicles and are only careful in those areas. Essentially, road users are concerned about meeting the rules in word and not in spirit. We haven’t been able to instil driving discipline on Indian roads and there is a strong need for driving behavioural change in people for following traffic rules for road safety,” he says candidly.
The vehicle safety systems have substantially evolved from extending their assistance after an accident has occurred towards reducing, if not eliminating, road accident-triggered fatalities. There is also a strong requirement to ensure other road users such as pedestrians, bicycle riders, straying animals are provided a safer environment. Clearly, the active safety systems will continue to hold prominence going forward, which effectively means the implementation of ADAS will go a long way towards mitigating road traffic deaths or grievous injuries. In the Indian context, how the ADAS implementation journey is mapped out will hold the key towards better road safety.
TEXT: Suhrid Barua