By Kaiser J. Khatana
Automobile manufacturers have made enormous progress in recent decades to ensure that the cars we drive are safer. Consumers now take airbags for granted when they buy a car, and the long-term trend is clear: Lives in these countries are going to be saved on roads.
Unfortunately, vehicle safety is a very different story. Many developing countries have lax vehicle safety standards. Around the world, road crashes kill an estimated 1.3 million people each year and injure up to 50 million. Automaker companies – routinely sell cars without many of the basic safety protections that are standard. Often, they are sold without airbags or electronic stability systems, and they are not capable of protecting passengers in crashes above 70 km. The result: An awful lot of people are being killed in crashes that, they would likely survive.
Ninety percent of crash fatalities occur in low-and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. Many of these lives could be saved. By 2030, for instance, 40,000 people could be saved from deadly car crashes, and 400,000 serious injuries could be prevented, if they adopt minimum vehicle safety standards.
Meeting those standards is not expensive. For car manufacturers, the difference in building a car to the highest or lowest safety ratings can be as small as a couple thousand rupees.
For car passengers, it can mean the difference between life and death. Automakers have argued that producing cars without airbags and other basic safety features helps keep them affordable in lower-income markets. But the cost of basic safety features is so low that incorporating them into production would have little impact on affordability.
This is a major public health crisis that has not gotten anywhere near the attention it deserves, and it demands an urgent response both by governments and automakers. What can be done? Automakers should make voluntary commitments that all of their cars swiftly reach or exceed the safety standards adopted by the United Nations. Cars sold in the U.S., most of Europe, Japan, Korea and Australia already meet these or equivalent national standards, but not those sold in Pakistan.
At the same time, governments should create and enforce better vehicle safety standards. And raising consumer awareness through independent crash-test programs would help more consumers make informed choices.
And the truth is auto companies have good reasons to act, too. As living standards rise across Europe and Asia, consumers with more buying power will demand safer cars. Companies that take the lead are likely to be rewarded with higher sales, as they are in Japan and other places where car safety information is readily available. But if history is any guide, action will only come with public pressure.
Institute of Road Safety Traffic EnvironmentPakistan will launch a consumer education campaign to address these challenges. This will help ensure that car buyers know which cars aren’t safe and which companies aren’t providing safe options. Informed consumers will have the power to impact car sales and save lives.
If car crashes were an infectious disease, like malaria or polio, governments, international aid organizations and foundations would pour money and energy into stopping it – as is only right. If that kind of determination is brought to bear on road crashes, we can save millions of lives and prevent untold amounts of heartache and grief.
-Published on page#24 June-2017 edition of MOBILE WORLD Magazine