Road Safety and Electric Vehicles

Road Transportation impacts all of us equally, being a major factor in our Quality of Life. Its importance is evident even more in emerging markets where the whole civilisation revolves around major road networks, unlike rivers in the past. The same road transportation poses an existential threat, not only due to emissions & carbon footprint but due to the alarming number of Road Crashes, which have seen a dramatic increase in the last decade. Even the Industry experts who are confident in mitigating automotive industry’s carbon footprint (owing to technology road maps of Electric Vehicles & Alternative fuels), are in a fix when it comes to overcoming the threat of Road Crashes as it transcends beyond the automotive industry to a complex multi-stakeholder domain inclusive of road engineering and end-user behaviour.

Road crashes are a major cause of unnatural death and injuries across the world. India paints a rather grim picture, ranking 1 in the number of road accident deaths across the 199 countries as reported in the World Road Statistics. India lost more than 1.5 lakh people to road crashes in 2018 (i.e. 11% of accident-related deaths in the world) and with more than 4.6 lakh injured. These deaths not only cause irreparable loss to the families but also to the economic development of the nation.

India is a signatory to Brasilia Declaration and committed to halving road crash deaths by 2020. However, despite many initiatives, we have not seen any remarkable progress, as 2018 numbers are 2.3% higher than 2017.

Government initiatives to address road safety issues

MoRTH (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways) is observing 31st road safety week from 11th Jan to 17th Jan 2020 and plans multiple activities to spread awareness on safe driving and emergency care.

Besides general awareness, the whole ecosystem needs to evolve to fight this menace. We need targeted efforts for all of the below points:

Safer Vehicles

The focus of this article is Vehicle Safety, that needs to be analysed and strengthened for new vehicles, as well as millions of in-use vehicles.

1. Safety provisions for new vehicles

Here’s a look at prominent recent notifications by MoRTH for new vehicles to be sold:

ABS made compulsory from 1st April 2018 in new vehicles and from 1st April 2019 in existing vehicles of the M1, M2 and two-wheelers.

– Mandatory ‘Automatic Headlamp On’ (AHO) in two-wheelers

Mandatory Crash Tests: Crash tests have been mandated for all cars/models on sale from October 1, 2019. This would require many OEMs to invest in re-engineering the older models. This initiative is highly appreciated after the dismal performance of Indian cars in NCAP crash tests. Facilities for the crash test are available at Passive Safety Labs at ICAT, Manesar and ARAI Crash Lab at Pune.

Crash Test
TATA Nexon Global NCAP Crash Test

Air Bags: AIS-145 safety norms kicked in from July 1, 2019, and make it mandatory to have fitment of driver Air Bags, seatbelt reminder for driver and co-driver and rear parking sensors on all the LMV passenger vehicles.

Speed Alert in Cars: All cars manufactured after July 1, 2019, will have to be equipped alert systems for speeds beyond 80 km/h.

– Notification of the bus body code and the truck body code.

– Notified standards for Electric Power Train vehicles and Adaptive Front Lighting System.

2. The roadworthiness of in-use vehicles

MoRTH to set up Inspection & Certification Centres to periodically check and improve the condition of all in-use vehicles (not just transport vehicles, as is the case at present). 

Where EVs stand – EV safety characteristics

For a video explanation of EV Safety Characteristics, check out our video on EV Safety.

As an EV knowledge platform, one question we get frequently asked is – Are EVs safe or Are EVs safer than conventional vehicles in the event of a road crash? Here’s a look at the safety characteristics of the EVs and safeguards deployed by the automakers to overcome any safety hazards:

1. EV battery packs are heavy (e.g. MG eZS battery pack weighs 250 kg). Owing to battery pack placement in the floor of the vehicle, EVs have a lower centre of gravity than conventional vehicles making them more stable and less likely to tumble.

2. EVs need less number of components to run, allowing more crumple space. In case of a collision, cars protect its occupants by absorbing the impact on its crumple zones. With more elbow room available, careful planning of crumple zones is easier in EVs offering better frontal, side and rear protection to its occupants. The amount of protection an EV can offer in case of a frontal collision is way better than the ICEs where the engine fills up space.

3. Most EVs log the drive train activity and perform pre-emptive diagnostics to prevent potential failures of any sub-system. This leads to better-maintained cars less likely to suffer any breakdowns or accidents.

4. Battery Safety: Though EVs do not carry an inflammable tank of gasoline, they are run by high energy density Lithium-ion batteries that come with a risk of catching fire under unusual circumstances and, sometimes exploding.

Automakers use cell isolation and division of battery packs into arrays to limit the potential damage in case of a malfunction. Under normal circumstances as well, a battery management system continuously monitors the state of health and temperature of the battery pack and is capable of taking necessary measures to prevent events like ‘thermal runaway’. A cooling mechanism is used to keep the battery temperature low while the EV is running. External packaging of the battery pack and all electrical systems are IP rated tough casings (ranging from IP 65 to IP 68) that provide dust and water protection.

5. EVs have in-built failsafe mechanisms to cut power in case of an accident or short-circuit to remove any electrocution risk

6. EVs do not make a running noise and OEMs have taken necessary steps to address associated safety concerns. e.g. Hyundai and Ultraviolette have introduced artificial sounds to alert pedestrians of an approaching vehicle. 

At present, Nexon EV, Hyundai Kona EV and MG ZS EV, Nexon (ICE) are all among the safest cars in India with 5 star NCAP crash test ratings.

Testing for EVs in India

Electric vehicles undergo additional testing for EV drivetrain specific components in addition to standard safety tests that are conducted for conventional vehicles. Here’s a list of standards EVs need to adhere to depending on their type:

Source: ARAI

AIS 049 Rev 1: CMVR Type Approval for Electric Power Train Vehicles includes tests for the braking system, gradability, measurement of pass-by noise level, lighting system etc that are applicable for all vehicles.

AIS 038 Rev 1: Specifies construction and functional safety requirements for L, M and N categories of electric power train vehicles, including tests for protection against electric shock, overheating of the battery pack and water effects.

AIS 048: Applies to the traction batteries used for battery-operated vehicles of L, M and N category. Includes safety tests for protection against short-circuit and overcharging of the batteries and testing how the battery pack behaves in the face of mechanical tests such as vibration test, shock test and pointed steel rod penetration test among others to rule out fire/explosion events.

Also, while addressing a webinar conducted by WRI India, Anand Deshpande (Sr. Deputy Director, ARAI) mentioned that India is a signatory to Global Technical Registry on EV safety and an active participant in the development of GTR 20 standard.

Concluding Thoughts

Better roads, driving etiquette, safer vehicles and availability of emergency services are all critical to curtailing the number of casualties in road crashes. Despite making some progress on all of these parameters, we are still far from halting the alarming growth of crashes on our roads due to mindset & skill gaps among the majority of the road users.

Road Crashes are still called ‘Accidents’ and considered more as an act of God than an act of Science. Many still believe that “Nimbu-Mirchi” (A bunch of lemons & chilly on their vehicles) or stopping when a Black Cat crosses the road are strong safeguards than improving on their driving skill, Road Behaviour or careful look at buying criteria of their vehicle based on science of safety engineering like ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistant Systems) or stability features.

There are many reasons for these road deaths, but one sure solution is transforming Public Traffic Sense on Indian roads and encouraging Good Road Behaviour through a Citizen’s movement. Bad road behaviour, missing empathy for other users and unsafe driving practices cause enough stress & loss of productivity for all of us on a daily basis. Road safety awareness is an indispensable survival skill today and though we appreciate the Government’s initiatives in this regard, the real change needs to come from us who use the roads every day.

‘India Against Road Crash’ is a step in this direction, you can visit and be a part of this initiative at http://www.iarc2020.org/.

About the Authors:

This article has been co-authored by Rama Shankar Pandey (MD – Hella India Lighting Ltd. and a leading road safety activist) and Priyakshi Gupta (Editor – EVreporter.com). The views presented by Rama Shankar Pandey are his own and do not necessarily reflect his employer’s position.

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