Accidents happen. Imagine a brand new car travelling fast on a road. When it comes to a crossroad, the driver runs the light but is rammed by a truck going across the car. The off-centre impact causes the entire front end of the car to crumple. The victim, escapes with his life only because he was in a modern car, designed with this very scenario in mind. Nobody ever cares about how safe the car he or she drives is – the purchase decision is usually dictated by looks, performance, handling and perhaps, interior space and comfort.
To find out if a car is safe or not, real-life conditions need to be simulated. That’s where crash testing comes in. The European New Car Assessment Programme or Euro – NCAP for short, does exactly that. Cars are selected randomly and subjected to a stringent crash-testing programme, the results of which are of great interest to manufacturers and increasingly nowadays, the more aware consumer.
The Euro-NCAP committee selects cars according to a proven formula. The test car is the best selling version of a car model incorporating all the safety features it has as standard in all EU member states. However if the standard model does not do well in the test and the manufacturer has a safety-related feature available on its paid options list for that model, (like ABS
brakes or extra airbags for example) then the manufacturer is allowed another test, at the manufacturer’s cost, with the optional equipment included.
As it is not possible to test for every conceivable scenario, the Euro-NCAP results are based on four accidents that are most common – frontal impact, side impact, a pole impact and importantly, a pedestrian impact test because pedestrians share the roads with cars.
The frontal impact test consists of a car striking a honeycomb-structured, deformable barrier. The car is driven into the barrier at a standard speed of 64kph. The barrier is offset because frontal impacts are hardly ever absolutely square on. The side impact test simulates another vehicle coming and striking the test car from the side. For this test, the test car remains stationary while a trolley fitted with a deformable front is towed into the driver’s side of the car to simulate a side-on crash. This test is performed at a speed of 50kph. Another, side impact test that is carried out is the pole impact test. In this case, the car itself is propelled into a narrow pole, simulating an out of control car on the street, and the deformation is measured.
So what happens to the occupants of the car? Obviously, it is not possible to put real people inside the car during the tests to observe and record the effects of a crash; so two extremely smart dummies packed with sensors to record every conceivable detail are used.
As the name suggests, the Euro-NCAP tests are predominantly for cars made for and sold in Europe. However, as many European models are also available in India, how the car performs in the tests is very relevant to India.
The Hyundai Getz for example was awarded a four-star rating thanks to its safety systems that included single-stage tethered airbags for the driver and passenger, seat-mounted thorax and head airbags, front seat belts with pre-tensioners and load limiters. Most of these features are missing from the basic Indian version, so it is possible that the Indian Getz will not attain the same Euro-NCAP results. However, the body structure was found to be stable (did not distort in a dangerous way) and this applies to the Indian car too.
The Suzuki Swift was found to have an extremely strong body that suffers little deformation in a frontal impact. However, what Euro-NCAP tested is the equivalent of the Indian ZXi version in India, which lacks a head curtain airbag compared to the test car. So safety is slightly compromised in the Indian version. The Ford Fusion frontal impact test proved the passenger cell to be rigid and strong, as did the passenger compartment. The front seat occupants ran a risk of chest injuries due to the seat belts.
SUVs are prone to accidents, usually due to being driven in over-aggressively manner. So it pays to know which SUV is safer. Both the Honda CR-V and the Nissan X-Trail, available in India currently, had pretty interesting results - the X-Trail actually had to be tested a second time because as determined by the first tests, it had a number of weaknesses. Nissan went back to the drawing board upgraded the vehicle. In the repeat test, it received a four-star overall rating. So did the CR-V but the test car was a 2002 model. Tests on the Fabia from Skoda and the Dacia Logan from Mahindra & Mahindra have shown the Fabia to be a strong small car and the Logan’s strong body got it a three-star rating. A crash test on a 2006 model Chevrolet Aveo showed through the amount of structural deformation and spot-weld release that the bodyshell had been overloaded and had become unstable. The driver’s chest made contact with the steering wheel, distorting the rim. The little Fiat 500 was a support car to Ferrari’s India Drive was tested too, and it was seen that the passenger compartment remained stable during the impact. The driver’s knees too, were well protected by an airbag. Even the dashboard was safe, as there were no structures in the dashboard that presented a risk of injury to the passenger’s knees and femurs. The Fiat Bravo, also scheduled for launch in India soon, however did not fare as well because the steering column and ignition barrel posed some risk of injury to the driver’s femurs.
It was a surprise to see the SUVs performing well, especially in pedestrian safety, as these are generally perceived to be very unfriendly road hogs. The Indian buyer, while making a purchase decision, would do well to refer to the Euro-NCAP tests about the current-in-Europe car he or she is planning to purchase. Not only will it be an informed decision, it will also be a safe one. Source