Experts concerned over the car safety features in Brazil

Rafael Consunji shared an interesting news feature on passenger car safety standards in Brazil written by Bradley Brooks of the Associated Press (Link: http://news.yahoo.com/ap-impact-cars-made-brazil-deadly-180411170.html).

 

Brooks in his feature, based on experts’ opinions, indicates that passenger cars made by the international automakers in Brazil lack standard safety features, which they usually provide in the cars made in the United States or Europe. Brooks stated that these oversights are intentional, and are possible because of the loopholes in local laws. He claims that these substandard cars are responsible for an increased number of road fatalities on Brazilian roads.

Brooks’ narrative starts by explaining that there is a growing demand for new cars in Brazil as there has been a tremendous increase in the Brazilian middle-class, an increase of 40 million in the last 10 years. Several international auto-makers have capitalized on this opportunity, and on average they are selling 10,000 new cars a day. On the other hand, the car occupant deaths are on the rise in Brazil. Based on the Brazilian ministry of health statistics, he argued that while the US had five times more cars than Brazil in 2010, the deaths of car occupants are only slightly higher than those of Brazil (12,435 car occupants in the US compared to 9,059 in Brazil). He suggests that the sale of sub-standard new cars by international automakers is one of the major reasons for the increased fatalities of vehicle occupants in Brazil. His argument is supported by numerous experts including doctors, engineers, and road safety advocacy groups. One of the Brazilian consumer safety groups in his feature indicated that to increase the profit margin automakers are not including frontal airbags and antilock-braking systems on all cars, and only next year, a law will oblige them to do so.

International automakers, when inquired by Brooks, refuted claims they were making substandard automobiles with some of them suggesting that they had actually made tougher cars to cope with Brazilian road conditions and other safety problems. Findings from Latin NCAP (New Car Assessment Program), however, rejected the automakers’ standpoint. A car of the same make sold in Europe had higher safety scores than the one made in Brazil. The NCAP crash tests of top selling US and European cars sold in Brazil showed that the most Brazilian models scored one star on crash tests when the same model sold in the US or Europe scored 4 stars. Brooks cited some engineers, who on condition of anonymity indicated that vehicles made in Brazil lacked several essential safety joints and high quality materials.

Ralph Nadir, a well-known consumer activist in the US, told Brooks that public awareness can play an essential role in making laws that hold automakers accountable for selling the substandard vehicles. David Ward of the London-based FIA foundation agreed with Nadir, and stated that unless the automakers are made accountable they will avoid implementing safety standards on their own as was the case in the US in the 1960s and Europe in the 1990s.

Editor: The news feature makes a good case for upgrading/legislating the current car safety standards in emerging countries; however, additional research is needed to better understand the role of substandard cars in Brazil’s high motor vehicle fatality rates. To my knowledge, this is a neglected area of research. While initiatives like Latin NCAP can guide emerging economies about vehicle safety standards, all countries should require automakers to test their vehicles at an approved, independent third party NCAP established nationally. Further, governments should make efforts to improve awareness among new vehicle buyers about the importance of the safety standards in order to create consumer pressure for higher safety standards on all new vehicles sold.

Acknowledgement: G. Tung.

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