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Safety is a big thing in our car industry today – more than it has ever been. Regulatory bodies, research institutes and carmakers alike have been tirelessly working in the background for higher safety standards and awareness in Malaysia, in an attempt to keep road accidents, injuries and fatalities at bay. We at paultan.org have voraciously championed the cause for years.

With the ongoing implementation of more UN regulations for new vehicle type approvals (VTA), higher stringency in ASEAN NCAP and more carmakers stepping up to the plate to comply, there’s much to look forward to. However, while vehicle safety awareness appears to be growing in urban areas – indicative of a more mature and sophisticated market – sadly, there remain many Malaysian motorists for whom safety is still not a priority.

And while it’s easy to point fingers at the relevant authorities for not doing enough to enforce or spread awareness, as clichéd as it sounds, safety begins with you. It’s an attitude. At a recent press briefing, Proton chief technical officer Abdul Rashid Musa outlined the safety standards to come and how Proton will meet them. So much has been done, researched, invested, designed, conceptualised; yet, all it takes is for someone to not wear a seat belt or not use a child seat to rubbish everybody’s hard work to save lives.

We’ve told you before about the upcoming UN regulations – 24 have been gazetted this year, 18 of which concern passenger cars. By 2017, a further 22 will be gazetted, 10 of which apply to passenger cars. Finally by 2020, an additional 19 will be gazetted, with 11 of them applicable to passenger cars.

The regulations cover every conceivable vehicle component, fitting, function and system, to ensure they adhere to specification. Some only apply where that component or system is fitted (like daytime running lamps, headlamp cleaners and speed limiters). At present, there are 134 UN regulations in total under the World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations (WP29) – the aim is to incorporate a total of 126 into Malaysian law by 2020.

In addition to that, ASEAN NCAP’s safety rating system is going to become stricter. Beginning this year, R95 side impact compliance is a pre-requisite for a three-star rating (down from the previous four) and from next year, electronic stability control (ESC) and driver and front passenger seat belt reminders will be required for four stars (down from the previous five).

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This means that for all vehicles tested from 2015 onwards, if they do not pass the side impact test, they can only be rated two stars at best. And for vehicles tested from 2016 onwards, if they do not have ESC or seat belt reminders, the most they can get is three stars. According to Rashid, the crash-testing remains voluntary, and already-rated vehicles won’t ‘lose’ their stars with the introduction of the new rating system (unless a re-test is carried out, of course). Buyers are urged to check the crash test date on the ASEAN NCAP result plate.

By 2017, new rating schemes (not elaborated upon) will come into force for frontal offset, side impact and child protection tests. By 2020, the frontal test will include a fifth-percentile female dummy in a combined score (following Euro NCAP protocol), while the side test will include pole impact and the Advanced European Mobile Deformable Barrier. Of course, the roadmaps of Australasian NCAP (ANCAP) and Euro NCAP are so far ahead, but we’ve all got to start somewhere – better late than never!

With all that in mind, Rashid was keen to point out Proton’s focus and emphasis on vehicle safety, spearheaded by its Preve, Suprima S and Iriz models. Apart from meeting UN ECE regulations (which is the dominant automotive standard in the world, thus facilitating export), they are all five-star ASEAN NCAP cars (counting out the ESC-less Suprima S Standard), with the Preve and Suprima S also having five stars from ANCAP. The Iriz is the cheapest new car in Malaysia with ESC – and ESC is standard across its range.

Safety features include the employment of hot-press-formed (HPF) parts and ultra high-strength steel in construction, Isofix child seat points, five three-point seat belts and seat belt reminders, in addition to the usual ABS, EBD, BA, ESC, traction control and airbags. But Proton’s newest baby, the Iriz, having ticked the passive and active safety boxes, is set to take things even further – it seems being the most affordable five-star ASEAN NCAP car in the region is not enough.

At the Alami Proton carnival last September, an Iriz prototype fitted with an Advanced Drive Assistance System (ADAS) stereo camera by South Korea’s LG Electronics was on display. The camera makes possible advanced safety aids such as Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition, Adaptive Cruise Control, High Beam Assist and Cross Traffic Assist, marking the national carmaker’s foray into cognitive safety.

Rashid would not say when these advanced safety features would become realities on a Proton, but with Euro NCAP having made Autonomous Emergency Braking mandatory for new cars to get five-star ratings, the impression is that it’ll be sooner rather than later, if Proton has those markets in its sights.

The chief technical officer also saw fit to address some issues that went viral on social media in the past – chiefly the accident involving a Preve in which its engine detached, leading many to question the car’s quality. It was explained that the engine is designed to detach in heavy collisions via collapsible mounts, so it doesn’t intrude into the passenger compartment and injure the occupants.

The roof caved in, a sure indication of a roll-over, but the roof side structures (made of HPF parts) remained intact, due to their strength. The doors unlocked automatically upon impact and could be opened – a testament to the passenger cell’s strength and effectiveness.

Rashid revealed that Proton is recommending Bomba to be part of the VTA committee (currently made up of the Transport ministry, MITI, JPJ, Road Safety Department, Puspakom and SIRIM). This is because in an accident, the Fire Department are the ones who have to handle the situation first-hand, and the rescue method of sawing through the roof would simply not work on modern HPF Protons because of the immense rigidity. Proton has in-house facilities to test roof strength, although it is at present not required, he said.

So much can be said about Proton. The age-old qualms surrounding reliability, quality, after-sales and even the nature of its existence may or may not be founded, but its intensive focus on safety at these price points and in so doing, bringing active safety to the people, is one thing it’s doing utterly and irrevocably right.