MUMBAI -- In India, more than 150,000 people are killed each year in traffic accidents. That's about 400 fatalities a day and far higher than developed auto markets like the U.S., which in 2016 logged about 40,000.
Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is attempting to curb the carnage on Indian roads caused by everything from speeding two-wheelers to cars not equipped with airbags. A bill introduced in August 2016 -- proposing harsher penalties for traffic offenses and requiring that automakers add safety features -- has passed the lower house of parliament and is expected to go through the upper house in 2018.
The wide-ranging changes are likely to boost manufacturing costs for domestic and foreign carmakers in India. The South Asian country will be the world's third-largest car market after China and the U.S. by 2020, according to researcher IHS Automotive. The World Health Organization estimates that traffic crashes cost most countries about 3 percent of their gross domestic product.
The U.K.-based nonprofit Global NCAP, which studies the quality of vehicles, has over the years assigned a zero-star rating to many small vehicles sold in India -- an assessment that there could be life threatening injuries in a crash at 40 mph. Past efforts in India to boost road safety haven't taken off, and the success of this one will depend on how strictly it is implemented.
India "has delayed 20 years in making safety features mandatory," said Dinesh Mohan, a professor at Noida-based Shiv Nadar University. Globally, manufacturers haven't usually added such safety elements "until and unless they were forced to do so by mandatory government regulations," he said.
A spokeswoman at India's Ministry of Road Transport and Highways declined to give a timing for the new law.