Apart From New Technologies, Educating The Stakeholders Is Extremely Important For Road Safety - Pawan Kumar Singh 3M India

With New Roads and Highways being built in India, increasing vehicle density, Electric Cars, ADAS systems, Connected Vehicles gaining traction, High Visibility Road Signages become critical for Road Safety. Pawan Kumar Singh, Executive Director of Transportation and Electronics Business Group, 3M India talks to Siddharth Shankar from BWBusinessworld about the challenges and opportunities with Road Safety in India. Excerpts :

Road safety has been a primary concern for all the other countries, it is being taken up seriously in India now. We have seen G-NCAP also coming up with safety ratings for Indian cars. I would like to understand what according to you is the current scenario of road safety in India and how can we make it better?

Road safety is a global issue, But if you look at India it becomes a grimmer situation, we contribute to almost 11% of the global fatalities on Indian roads. We have almost 1% of the global vehicular population in India but we contribute to 11% of global fatalities. So, you can see a comparison and where we stand and that is something which is going on for a while. The recorded number of deaths on Indian roads is around 150000. People lose their life on Indian roads almost every year and despite the various programs and initiatives, this curve has not even flattened let alone coming down.

There is something seriously wrong with the approach that we have adopted over the last few years or decades. Globally when people look at the improvement of road safety they talk about the engineering enforcement, education improvement, and then of the emergency care provided in a post-accident scenario. So, these are the things where various countries have done their bit, and a lot of countries are probably smaller in size than India, but they have been very successful in bringing the number of fatalities on their roads to zero.

But in India, our efforts have been in bits and pieces. In the engineering enforcement segment, a lot of work has been done but education is something which is I would say we have to go a long way because whatever you do in terms of engineering and enforcement improvement unless we as a road users understand how exactly we have to behave on the road while we are driving and are behind the wheels and unless each and every road user understands that it is going to be very difficult for any government to bring down the number of accidents. So, I think that is one area, of course, all the areas have to be focused on, but this is one area which needs a special focus.

What is 3M's contribution to road safety? What kind of products and solutions are you bringing out, for road safety?

I would probably try and give a little analogy here, during the daytime when you travel on the road and while you take a decision in terms of where you have to turn there are various cues that are available. You can see that there is a tree which is coming. You can see that the road is turning. You can see that there is a marking and there are many other things which give you guidance. But as soon as it becomes dark, these cues become completely absent. these are the times when you need something to help you and guide you, And that is where the signs and the markings become the language through which the road talks to you. 3M has got 70000 products and even in road safety area we have got a thousand of products but in a nutshell, if I have to summarize then anything which reflects in the night, when you are driving and through the headlight of the car or the two-wheeler if something reflects and you are able to see that whether it is signage, road marking, or any kind of road feature which guides you about the whatever hazards are coming on the way and things like that are wherever you have to take a decision in terms of turning safely, that technology has been innovative. So retro reflection as technology was invented by 3M in 1939 that something where the light falls and then it reflects back to the driver's side. And the driver is able to see that the technology itself was the invention of 3M way back. So, a lot of products around that which are which can be clubbed under the road signages and the markings are helping road users all over the globe.


What other new technologies is 3M working on for road safety?

If you're in Delhi or you would have seen in Gurugram, or in Dhaula Kuan airport road you will see that those electronics boards give you real-time traffic information. If you are moving from point A to point B it will derive the information from the cloud in real-time and tell the actual time that you are going to take for e.g. from Dhaula Kuan to the airport is going to be twenty-five minutes or if there is a traffic jam it will say that you are going to take one a half hour. It can give you an alternate route so you can see, and you can decide and avoid the traffic. And of course, it has improved safety as well. So, this is another thing that has been installed in almost 20-25 cities, and close to 1000 signage electronic boards are installed all across India. So, this is another technology that we are working continuously on and have improved it for Indians, and we have been helping various government authorities to use that.


What kind of different technologies goes behind manufacturing all these products, what is the thought behind providing signages? What is the science that goes behind it? How far can somebody see it, reflective properties, different kinds of lights falling in different kinds of weather patterns. It has to work in every condition.

Retro reflection - that is the basic technology in the layman’s language. When any vehicle’s light falls on a surface and that surface reflects it back and it comes back to the driver's side and through that, the driver is able to see. The technology can be performed through two sub-technologies, one is the glass bead technology and the other one is called prismatic technology where the reflection happens through the millions of small prisms which are there on the flat surface of the signage that you see on the road. 3M has been working on this technology and has been improving the prismatic technology over the years. We are the company who has improved it to the level that theoretically in around 2004 - 2005 we launched a particular grade of sheeting where a 100% of the light which falls on the surface comes back to the driver's side. So, that's the maximum reflection that can be given by a particular reflective sheeting or the signages can be that much brighter. Now, why brighter signages are required? You can see that you can anybody can have a question that a moderate level of reflective signage is also good enough then why do we need the brighter signages?  So, when you design the signages, you design them for the critical conditions, right? So, when you are designing the signages or the road safety pattern for any roads, you are designing it for all the age groups, you are designing it for all the people with various kinds of eyesight.  

So, it is not designed only for the people who have six by six eyesight, you are not designing it for people of just 30 years old and who have got very good eyesight and very good reflexes. You are also designing it for the drivers who are 60 years 65 years 70 years old because they are also the people who are driving on the road. For them, the amount of light reflection that is required has to be much more only then, they will be able to see because their reflexes are slow hence, they need to see those signages much earlier than a young person. So that is where the up-gradation of the technology helps and that is what 3M has worked through the years that is to cater to the requirement of the various subsets of the driving population on the road. So, you have got the drivers of the commercial vehicles, you've got people driving private vehicles who then fall under different age brackets. So, our technology serves the whole gamut of road users young, old, people with higher reflexes, people with slower reflexes. And that's where we have almost reached the maximum that this technology can offer but at the same time it is not the end of innovation. We are still working to improve that. We now are talking about various technologies which are going to be helping the companies with autonomous cars, connected cars. So, all those things are going on and you'll see over a period of time those also coming from 3M’s table.

India is a vast country. There are millions and millions of kilometers of roads and Mr. Gadkari is very proactive in building infrastructure. Has the government shown any interest in this technology and any collaboration with the government for this?
As a company, while of course, we are a product company and we have to sell our product and we all do that for our livelihood, but as our responsibility, we always feel it goes much beyond that. When I say that it becomes our responsibility, as an Indian citizen, I feel there is a technology that performs well in other parts of the world, but it is not available in India, it becomes my responsibility to educate the stakeholders about that. And that is what we have been doing for the last 32 years through our presence in India. We have been partnering with the Government of India.  We have been partnering with all the other stakeholders like Indian Roads Congress. I've been part of the Indian Road Congress for more than 20 years now. I was vice president for IRC for three years. I've been part of their four large and important committees that set the road standards.  So, we are doing our bit, which is going beyond the product sale, in terms of educating the customers and what can we provide as solutions which can improve safety on Indian roads.  

As you took Mr. Gadkari’s name, the acceptance of the private sector contributing to this space has increased in the last few years. Otherwise, when you are sitting on the other side of the table you are always considered as an interested party who is trying to sell something to you. But here, he's always more proactive. And then, of course, even the bureaucracy as a whole has accepted that the private sector has to become a partner. It cannot be done just by the government. While the decisions have to be taken by them, the knowledge has to come from everywhere. And if the people are truly interested, ultimately at the end of the day we will try to introduce new products. We will compete with the competitors and we will sell our bit. That's what any corporate does. But it doesn't absolve us from the responsibility of contributing to safety on the roads in India. That is what we have been doing all this while.


We see a big push towards electric vehicles globally and obviously, electric vehicles mean a big inflow of technologies like autonomous driving and ADAS systems. Is 3M also working on these technologies?

The short and sweet answer is yes, we are working on these technologies, not that I can give you all the details at this point in time.  But when I say yes, I say it because that's something which is in the public domain and that we have been working with the various universities in the U.S., because at the end of the day when you are talking about autonomous vehicles connected cars, they have to take the cue on the road. They have to take the cue from something, and those cues primarily would come from the signages. It would come from the road markings because you were going to be driving in a lane. We are working not only with the universities but also with various top-notch carmakers in the US and a few other parts of the world. We have been working and there is a collaboration which is happening in terms of what is going to be the best suited to those kinds of conditions. A lot of trials are happening as we speak,  and I am sure that it is something in which 3M is going to play a very important role in the days to come.

What kind of Road Safety projects are you currently working on and what is your future plan for this particular segment?

While we keep making plans to not only hone our abilities to serve the customers better but also to offer the best in terms of technology to Indian road users,  one of the focus areas that we have right now is road markings. We have road markings that are used globally and which can perform. We call it All-Weather Thermoplastic. That is something which is of course costlier than the thermoplastic road marking, which is used on roads right now but they are not performing.   Generally, you will see that only after three months of laying on those roads, they become invisible during the night itself. We are trying to have various trials now,  in and around Delhi, and in the South, we have done it on the Hilly areas. We are trying to see that how they perform during the rainy season.
Thermoplastic, as soon as it is submerged underwater it is not going to reflect and you will not be able to see. But the technology that I'm talking about, even if it is completely submerged it is going to be seen as it is. And you'll still be able to take a cue and you'll be able to navigate through that road. So those are the technologies that we are working on as we speak. We have not commercially sold that a lot. We have got few small orders but we are trying and promoting that in terms of trials, doing some study, and then taking it to the government on how it can be implemented on Indian roads.

The second thing is education, which is extremely important. I keep saying that because in terms of road safety, my generation has completely failed. We have not done our duty in terms of doing our job as responsible drivers on the roads. So, the only hope for this country is that we have to train the next generation on how they have to behave on the road, how they have to drive on the road, and how they have to respect the rights of the other road users on Indian roads.  

If they start calculating that from the beginning, then the Indian roads are going to be safer. That is something which we have started from the last two years.  Unfortunately, the COVID year had a little blip.  We have got a program which is called “Young Change Agents for Road Safety”. ‘YCARS’ or ‘3M YCARS Program’ where we have teamed up with almost a hundred schools across the country, going there and educating the kids who are 10 to 15 years of age through practical training.  

It is a combination of practical and classroom training, then taking them out in batches and then asking them that what can be done to improve the surroundings of their school to make it safer, translating that on a drawing board, then there are solutions from our technical team which is implemented around their schools.  Then it is followed up. We have got NGOs that are helping us, this is completely done through our CSR fund.  We are trying to get some other like-minded corporates partnering and kind of furthering that cause.  India has got 1.5 million schools, a hundred schools are not going to do anything.  This is a larger cause, and it has to behave the blessing of the government as well as support from all the other corporates. So now we are trying to scale it up. So that's going to be another big thing that we want to try in India. It's called the zone safe school program.








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