What no one tells you about airbags, Audis and drinking for fun

It is shameful that safety of Indian lives for car manufacturers means that costs have to go up.

 |  3-minute read |   17-06-2015
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I am a lawyer and, like Janhavi Gadkar, have a degree from the University of Warwick, UK. I did my LL.M in International Law and Development Rights. I presently work in a non-profit organisation.

I learnt to drive late in life and bought my first car last year. Driving is not associated with freedom in my mind - at my age (30 plus), it is associated solely with responsibility, both for oneself and for others. Unlike what a young adolescent person must feel when driving, my only concern while driving in Delhi is I should drive safely and not get into trouble.

I first contemplated purchasing an Alto 800. Websites advertise the Alto 800 LXI as having an airbag for the driver and although that jacked up the price by approximately one lakh (as opposed to the VXI), I decided safety is the paramount consideration, and so I test drove the Alto 800 LXI. Anti-lock breaking system (ABS) is not available in an Alto 800. Airbags do not cost too much by themselves; however, cars with features such as airbags and ABS are high end models - and so the price does go up substantially. It is shameful that safety of Indian lives for car manufacturers means that costs have to go up - in the USA, by 1998, all new automobiles had to be fitted with dual airbags.

The Alto 800 LXI in reality has no airbags and I have no clue why it is being advertised as having airbags. The Maruti showroom refused to return the advance I had paid for the Alto until I sent a written complaint.

Again, as safety was my primary consideration, the next cheapest car (with airbags) was the Hyunadai Eon Sportz. Purchasing the Hyundai Eon necessitated taking a loan. The high end Sportz model costs about four lakhs something. Again, ABS was not possible - the cheapest car with both ABS and airbags is the Nissan Micra Active XV (if one goes by what the websites, say), which is about Rs five lakh.

The Eon Spotz lives up to the promise made by the websites, and does have an airbag for the driver. Even though I paid more than what I thought I would, I am quite happy with my purchase.

There is a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) pending in the Madras High Court for installation of airbags in all vehicles. I am not entirely sure if I agree. Airbags are known to deploy at wrong moments and cause injury due to faulty car sensors - I have no clue what the need for ABS is in a city like Delhi, although it sounds good and I don't want to skid on a slippery road. The airbag in my Eon will deploy only at 70km per hour and as my office is in Bhogal, if I manage to drive at 20km per hour, that's a good day for me.

However, why does the price of the car go up if one wants such safety features? The price of installing a mini bar in your vehicle ("car-o-bar") is as little as ten thousand - but an airbag is Rs one lakh! The message is clear - poor people, drop dead, we don't care.

At the end of the day, rather than safety features in a motor vehicle, it's the entire attitude - of individuals, car manufacturers, the government, our work culture - which promotes ruthless driving on the streets of Delhi.

At the last office party I went to (not for celebrating any merger or acquisition, but a thank you by the boss to her juniors) I drank pineapple juice - although yes, I do also enjoy drinking beer "for fun". But I knew I had to drive back home and I don't want to take any risk. Whether it is an Audi or an Eon, a car is a killing machine and it's the attitude of the person behind the wheel - moulded by a society that disrespects poor people, pedestrians, people who sleep on pavements and rewards high risk behaviour - that counts.


Gayatri Sharma Gayatri Sharma

The writer is a human rights lawyer working primarily on issues pertaining to women's rights.

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