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Indian cars crash out on safety tests

Indian Tata Nano car is seen during an independent crash test in India.

FIVE of the top-selling cars in India, including the Tata Nano -- billed as the world's cheapest car -- have failed their first independent crash tests, fuelling fresh safety fears in a country where road deaths are the highest in the world.

The Nano, Ford's Figo, Hyundai's i10, Volkswagen's Polo and Maruti Suzuki all scored zero out of five in a test conducted by the New Car Assessment Program. The tests, which simulated a head-on collision at 64km/h, indicated that drivers of each of the cars would suffer life-threatening injuries.

The Nano, which starts at 145,000 rupees ($2650), was shown to be particularly unsafe, the report said. "It's worrying to see levels of safety that are 20 years behind the five-star standards now common in Europe and North America," said Max Mosley, head of NCAP Global.

The five models represent 20 per cent of the more than 2.7 million new cars sold every year in India, where 133,938 people were killed in road traffic accidents in 2011, equivalent to about 10 per cent of the total across the world. The number of deaths has increased from 118,000 in 2008.

Ford and VW equip their new cars with airbags and other safety equipment in Europe, the US and other markets where they have to do so, but not in India, where they are not required by law and where customers demand prices are kept as low as possible.

"Indian cars are not safe and they are often poorly maintained," said Harman Singh Sadhu, president of Arrive Safe, a road safety campaign group in Chandigarh. The rising death toll is blamed on chaotic and poorly designed roads, low levels of driver training and a growing drink-driving problem. Only 27 per cent of Indian drivers wear seat belts.